BY NATE SMELLE
Taking into consideration input from local business owners, the Pelham Summerfest organizing committee recently acknowledged that it would be implementing several changes tailored to improve this year’s event. The concerns addressed by the committee were originally raised during a public brainstorming session last fall, spawned by a petition from local business owners to move Summerfest from Pelham Street to a less intrusive location. Upon reviewing these concerns, the committee has decided to: alter the footprint of the event to provide better access to businesses on Pelham Street south of Church Hill, and to make improvements to security, shuttle services and parking.
Despite the changes, the owner of Wheel Class Automotive and Hot Rod Parts, Paul Hammond, believes Summerfest has strayed from its original intention. In the beginning, he said, the event was created to help Pelham Street business owners recover from the slump they experienced due to road work that prevented customers from easily accessing their businesses. Though Hammond is happy to see the footprint change on Friday to better accommodate businesses like his, he feels this concession will not benefit his business.
“There was a guy here this morning with a $100,000 hot rod and he would not park down the street three blocks and leave it there while he walks here to get something,” said Hammond.
“That won’t happen. These customers of mine will not come in during the festival. Instead of helping the local businesses, they’ve got all of these people coming in here that aren’t from Pelham. Now it’s nothing but a big party, and it’s more about the Town of Pelham making money.”
Hammond said he does not want to come off as negative, but in his opinion the changes made by the committee to make Summerfest beneficial to all Pelham Street business owners do not go far enough. In general, he said, a business like his does not really have an opportunity to benefit from such an event, because it would not make sense to set up a booth to sell high-end auto parts. If anything, doing so would open his merchandise up to the potential of being damaged. As the originator of last year’s petition, Hammond would still like to see the three-day festival moved.
“It works for some people, but not for me — and I’m not the only one,” he said.
“Other people love it because they make a lot of money when this happens, but it’s not good for every business, let’s put it that way. All we’ve ever asked for from day one was not to stop it, but just move it—move it off Pelham Street. It’s that simple.”
Owners of Cruise Holidays of Niagara, Pam and Jim Overholt, are hopeful that the committee’s changes will improve access to their business and others in the vicinity. Whether the changes will have made a difference, Pam said will not be known until after the event wraps up.
“I think they know what the problems are, so it’s just a matter of having a presence and control,” she said.
“They’ve obviously listened and tried to figure out what will work, so at least we will have accesses to our businesses on Friday.”
Security was another of the issues many of the business owners identified as one of their main concerns at the Town’s brainstorming session last fall. To improve security in 2017, the Summerfest committee plans to increase the number of security personnel and narrow the entrances to the festival area to ensure security personnel can adequately assess all entrants. Measures will also be taken to improve lighting and fencing within the festival area. The committee has also requested an increased presence by the Niagara Regional Police. Welcoming these improvements, Overholt said she thinks narrowing the entrance way to Summerfest to better control and monitor the crowd is an especially good idea. As Summerfest continues to evolve year after year, she advises the committee to start asking different questions as they move forward.
“The Town is very responsible when it comes to clean up, so I have no issues with that,” she said.
“But, I think we need to look to the future. I’m not against having a drink but we have to ask, what element does alcohol draw? You try not to be a bah humbug person, and be an old ‘Scrooge’ who doesn’t want to be involved in anything, but it’s not that. It changes the whole business environment.”
Summerfest committee member Councillor Gary Accursi explained that they have also taken steps to improve the shuttle service offered during Summerfest by increasing the number and capacity of buses and revising the routes. He said there will be more incentives for people to use the shuttle service and better promotion this year. Having experienced the troubles with the shuttle service firsthand at Summerfests gone by, Overholt was encouraged to see efforts being made to help bring people into town more efficiently.
“If they figure out how to help shuttle people into town that would be a really positive thing,” she said.
“People were getting frustrated with the delays and the buses being full. People are impatient so they would just drive and then have to fight to find parking. It can get crazy. Hopefully their plan works because it will encourage more people to come to town.”
Though they appreciate the committee’s attempts to make Summerfest less disruptive to their business, like Hammond the Overholts believe the best way to improve the festival is to move it to a more suitable area. Pam suggested that hosting Summerfest in East Fonthill would help to solve many of the current issues while at the same time highlighting the new community centre and other developments.
“It would be nice if they could have it somewhere else,” she said.
“Personally, it would be a much more pleasant environment if it was near a grassed area. It would be nice to have a larger area where people can spread out, have a decent amphitheatre or staging where a band can play and people can set up chairs. It’s pretty cramped over there. Ideally it would be nice to have it in a park or near the new community centre. It could be the perfect place, it has washrooms, it’s a place where people can go inside and sit down, they could have vendors there.”