The River Falls City Council had four resolutions on its Sept. 12 meeting agenda to consider for the Oct. 1 Taste of River Falls event, planned by the River Falls Business Leaders. While the …
The River Falls City Council had four resolutions on its Sept. 12 meeting agenda to consider for the Oct. 1 Taste of River Falls event, planned by the River Falls Business Leaders. While the resolutions passed, it was not without one alderperson in particular voicing his disapproval of allowing open container and the possibility of the event becoming more common.
Melissa “Mei Mei” Abdouch, representing the River Falls Business Leaders and owner of Mei’s Mei’s Cookies & Creamery thanked the council for approving the group’s June 4 event, its first one held downtown. Previously the group held the “Taste of RF” events at local wineries and breweries.
“We had a number of vendors that sold out of product because it was so successful, and we have received a lot of good feedback, both from businesses and the community at large,” Abdouch said.
Alderperson Jeff Bjork asked Abdouch to explain the purpose of the event, which will be held 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1 downtown.
“We would like to grow awareness of downtown, to bring people in to show them all the wonderful things that we don’t just have specifically to the downtown area, but also our business community at large,” Abdouch said. “We invite businesses to participate in a mobile position on either side of the median.”
The event consists of food truck, vendors and retailers set up along Main Street sidewalks and the median to display and sell goods. Live music will be performed at Veterans Park and open containers will be allowed within the closed off area, which consists of Main Street from Locust to Maple northbound and Maple to Walnut southbound, plus Elm Street from Main Street to the alley. Walnut Street would be open to allow motorists to reach Family Fresh and other Walnut Street businesses. Family Fresh plans to host face painting and a bounce house.
“Could you still be successful if alcohol wasn’t allowed to go up and down the street?” Bjork said.
He said more than 50% of police reports he reads involve alcohol.
“If we were not to be approved for open container, our board would not hold it downtown,” Abdouch said. “When mature adults are able to casually consume a beverage, they spend more money and have a more relaxed and enjoyable time.”
She pointed out the June event had zero incidents during the event.
“We do not support belligerent behavior and excessive consumption,” Abdouch said.
Alderperson Scott Morrissette, who voted against the open container resolution along with Alderperson Todd Bjerstedt, said he appreciates RFBL throwing it downtown but he can’t endorse an open container.
“I didn’t vote for it last time,” he said.
He also had concerns about the city paying for $3,500 in fees for RFBL, including public works and police officers’ labor, barricades, picnic tables, dumpster rental, etc.
“I do think those need to be borne by the promoter or the organization,” Morrisset said. “I do question if we need another downtown closure event. I just don’t want to see us getting in the habit of having a closure event every other week.”
Abdouch said she’d like to reinforce that the event benefits businesses, which in turn, benefit the city.
“When more people are spending money downtown, that’s more hope for businesses, like my own, that was going to close at the end of last year,” Abdouch argued. “We are a bedroom community. People sleep here, they leave for work, they do their grocery shopping elsewhere, they do their gift shopping elsewhere.”
Morrissette’s answer was that businesses get more customers during Bacon Bash and River Falls Days. He also asked if she’d be back at St. Patrick’s Day for another event.
“We do not request street closures for St. Patrick’s Day or any other time,” Abdouch said. “Your assumption that events like Bacon Bash and River Falls Days and all of the other Chamber events bring business to downtown, they do not. I do not see an uptick in business on River Falls Days, with the exception of prior to the parade and that is because I host a face painter. My register sales do not increase because River Falls Days is here, because the Chamber focuses everything in the event area as they should. It is not to bring people downtown. Our event focuses on bringing people in the doors of our business community to support the businesses that are here so that our storefronts don’t start going empty, which further hurts every other business next to them.”
Morrissette clarified that he supports the street closure, but doesn’t want it to become a habit. He remained opposed to the open container.
Alderperson Nick Carow stepped in and said the event in June was well done.
“Obviously there are some philosophical differences,” he said. “We should be striving for safe, legal and rare. Bring us back some metrics that show it’s driving some businesses. People are responsible for their own behavior, servers are responsible. There’s a lot of different things that have to go wrong for people to make those poor choices that lead to consequences and we didn’t see any last time.”
If there are problems, we will address them, he added. He said is larger concern is dueling entities (the Chamber and RFBL) trying to drive things for the city on the economic side.
Alderperson Sean Downing proposed trying to figure out the fee question in the future, but granting the request for the city to pay them this time.
“I think this is a good step forward,” he said. “When you look at how difficult Covid was on everybody, it was certainly hard on our downtown, and you’re helping us build back and I appreciate that.”
A motion by Morrissette to have RFBL pay the fees for the event died for lack of a second. The council passed the fees resolution with Morrissette against. The council voted unanimously to approve the street closure and noise control exemption resolutions (minus Alderperson Diane Odeen, who was absent).