Chester merchants worried about October event To meet with organizers to seek fix for parking loss

By Shawn Cunningham
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A Select Board-approved event to be held on Columbus Day weekend has upset merchants on The Green, where a portion of the event is set to be held.

Store owner Michele Bargfrede says merchants will lose parking on one of the busiest sales days of the year. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

These merchants are saying that they were never consulted about the event, only learning about it from The Chester Telegraph, and that it will block shoppers on one of their most crucial sales days of the year.

During the public comment portion of the Select Board meeting on Tuesday, July 3, several merchants asked the board to reconsider its June 6 decision to give over the parking along Common Street to the Porsche car event planned by Lee Whiting and Stuart Morton for the Saturday of the Columbus Day weekend.

Saying that the merchants like and support the idea and appreciate that someone is attempting to draw traffic into town, jeweler Michele Bargfrede, who owns Sage Jewelry just off The Green, said that that Saturday is one of the best sales days of the year and she and fellow business owners along The Green fear that taking away all the parking will have a negative impact on their sales.

“The only day that’s better for me is the Saturday before Christmas,” said Bargfrede. “That one day could mean as much sales the entire month of March or April.”

“We want positive things to happen but we also would like to see businesses taken into consideration and asked how we feel,” she said.

Lee Whiting explains the Wheels in the Field event at the June 6 Select Board meeting.

The weekendlong event – called Wheels in the Field – would take place in the field next to the American Legion on Rt. 103 south and feature Porsche automobiles and BMW motorcycles. The Saturday event at The Green would be a Porsche show that Whiting hoped would get people past the turn toward Ludlow on Route 103 to explore the rest of town. Whiting was uncertain how many cars might participate since this was a first time for the event.

Saying that they were left out of the decision-making, Bargfrede told the board that previous car shows on The Green have attracted a limited audience that did not spend much money there. Bargfrede added that the average tourist is not going to hunt for parking or take a shuttle from Cobleigh Field as was done during last year’s Fall Festival.

“The only way we heard about it was because of an article in The Chester Telegraph,” said Bargfrede.

Throughout the discussion, a couple of board members suggested that the merchants get together with the organizers to work out a solution that could make everyone happy.

The discussion – which was not warned in the Select Board agenda because it happened during public comment – continued as proponents of the event arrived.  Town Manager David Pisha, who left the meeting for a short time, returned to say Whiting was on his way and would call supporter Rick Paterno, owner of the Free Range restaurant.

Rick Paterno called it a ‘fabulous idea,’ saying he did not see a negative. Chester Telegraph file photo

Once he arrived, Paterno defended the event, calling it a  “fabulous idea for the town.”

“We’re in crisis mode, folks,” Paterno said loudly. “We need to bring people to town desperately.” He noted the inns that are for sale and businesses that were closed and for sale, including the former drugstore and gift shop, VTica and the Jiffy Mart, which built a larger shop to the east, as well as the vacant Mountain Leather shop. He added that Phoenix Books is having “challenges.”

Dismissing the parking concerns, Paterno concluded that “well-heeled folks will figure our where to park. I don’t see a negative.”

Chainsaw carver Barre Pinske agreed, saying that bringing more people to The Green would mean more business.

However, Southern Pie Co. owner Scott Blair noted that, with parking on The Green taken, visitors will be parking in front of his shop as well as Six Loose Ladies, Country Treasures and Meditrina, leaving their regular customers to hunt for parking or to move on. Blair also noted that he and his wife Leslie are in the process of buying the Mountain Leather building to open another business there.

Store owner Sharon Baker suggests alternatives to using the parking spaces.

Sharon Baker, owner of Sharon’s on the Common, asked how many cars could be expected and suggested that, with a ramp to accommodate the Porsches’ low clearance, the cars could be parked on The Green itself, in front of the Academy Building or along the Brookside Cemetery wall.

Board member Heather Chase suggested that cars could then be placed more artistically so they would not look like just a line of parked cars.

Whiting told the board that the date became available and could not be changed, but that next year they would find a “better, more positive date” and that he was willing to work with the town and anybody else to make the event a success.

As it passed the half-hour mark, board chair Arne Jonynas noted that since the discussion had not been warned, the issue should be put on the agenda for the July 18 meeting. He also asked Town Manager  Pisha to meet with the interested parties to look for a solution, A meeting among the merchants and Pisha is to take place early this week.

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  1. Wendy Martin says:

    “We’re in crisis mode, folks,” Paterno said loudly. “We need to bring people to town desperately.”

    …that would be, except for the people/tourists who might drive from Grafton over that road that will never be fixed, right? (If you call the Town Hall, that’s what they say.)

  2. Mary von Dorster says:

    As someone who comes to Chester frequently and likes to go in the shops, I think they should put the cars elsewhere. Not everyone likes to look at cars–it’s a select group. Many people (like myself) are totally uninterested in Porsches and BMWs. It’s more important to let the public have access to the shops.