Controversy brewing over city beer garden plans
by Tom Joyce Staff Reporter
Plans by some local businessmen to operate a beer garden in downtown Mount Airy during both Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival aren’t being toasted by everyone.
That includes officials of the Surry Arts Council and Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, longtime sponsors of the two popular fall events. The consensus is that the open consumption of beer from the parking lot beside Mayberry Toy Co. will be contradictory to the “family” atmosphere for which both longtime gatherings have become known.
“It’s a complete, blatant lack of support for the Surry Arts Council and an insult to the whole Mayberry Days concept,” said Tanya Jones, the executive director of the organization that is staging that event for the 24th year.
Jones also believes the plans for the beer garden at the corner of North Main and West Oak streets — the same area being considered for a mini-park — will be detrimental to existing businesses selling beer.
“This is not just being disrespectful to the arts council, but it is disrespectful to the downtown businesses within feet of where they’re going to do this,” Jones added Wednesday. Mayberry Days will run from Sept. 26-29.
While the chamber hierarchy has not officially addressed the beer garden topic, but will do so today, Betty Ann Collins, its president and CEO, expressed concerns Wednesday about the beer garden’s presence during the 47th-annual Autumn Leaves Festival Oct. 11-13.
She fears a potential negative impact on the festival’s image.
“Is this in keeping with the Autumn Leaves tradition and that family atmosphere?” Collins said of a formula that has been successful in terms of benefiting the city and one she doesn’t want to see undermined.
“It might be tough to decide how to measure that success,” Collins continued. “Is it the community that we live in, the weather — is it the crafters, is it the friendly nature of our citizens. Whatever it is, it has worked.”
Private Property A Key
Special ordinances are in place which give the chamber and the arts council control over what occurs in public areas, such as streets and sidewalks, during the Autumn Leaves Festival and Mayberry Days. But since the parking lot targeted for the beer garden is on private property, those ordinances are powerless, officials acknowledge.
City Police Chief Dale Watson said the beer sales will be permissible from a legal standpoint, given their existence on private-property, and are not subject to either chamber or arts council oversight. “That’s my interpretation,” he said.
As long as the beer garden operators abide by applicable regulations, such as state Alcoholic Beverage Control laws including the obtaining of an ABC license, they are free to proceed with their plans, the police chief said.
“I think it will be sponsored by one of the major (beer) manufacturers,” he said, with the alcoholic beverage to be served in combination with food.
Part of the proceeds from the beer garden will go to a non-profit organization.
Yet Watson is mindful of the concern that has emerged about the beer garden from some quarters of the community.
“There have been individuals who are in opposition to the sale of alcohol during these events…some concern voiced in regard to that,” the police chief said of Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival.
“Yes sir, it is a very hot topic.”
Downtown Groups Differ
The Downtown Business Association (DBA), a promotional group for a variety of events in the central business district, declined to give its support to the beer garden idea when recently approached by the two businessmen heading it, Paul Stroup and Brian McPeak.
“We did not want to go with it at this time,” DBA President Phil Marsh said Wednesday. He explained that this stance among the DBA leadership is partly due to a reorganization of that group now occurring in response to Mount Airy joining the North Carolina Main Street Program and uncertainties about the present extent of its authority.
“At this time, we were just not ready,” Marsh said.
But the president of another group — which has long been known as Downtown Mount Airy Inc. but will be called Mount Airy Downtown Inc. as part of the Main Street Program involvement — was supportive of the beer garden this week.
“That’s private property and people can do what they want to do on their private property,” Ted Ashby said.
Beer Garden Explained
Stroup, one of the beer garden organizers, said Wednesday that he believes concerns over it are overblown.
“We’re getting a lot of pushback,” he said.
However, the organizers are seeking to maintain an atmosphere similar to that at festivals in other parts of the state, including Asheville, where people can congregate to eat and drink in a safe, pleasant setting, Stroup said.
Tents will be set up as well as a seating area. “We’re going to put up TVs and you can get a bite to eat” while watching football games or other events, Stroup said. In addition to beer and food, soft drinks will be served.
“It’s going to be a family friendly area,” Stroup said.
“We don’t want anyone to think it’s strictly a beer garden or alcohol event,” he added, mentioning that part of the proceeds will go to Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach Inc.
Stroup also said there will be tight controls during its operation, such as checking identification for the beer sales, which will be limited to the parking lot. “We’re going to have certified bartenders.”
A police command center that is a normal part of festival operations will be stationed nearby.
Sign Of The Times?
Stroup said one of the reasons for the beer garden plan was to draw more people to the downtown area during Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival.
“This is something different,” he said in comparison to the usual event attractions.
While opposition has come from the Surry Arts Council and the chamber, an addition to Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival centering on beer sales was probably inevitable, some local officials say.
“You gotta try stuff,” Ashby said. “Whether you agree with it or don’t agree with it, our festivals have got to evolve or change.”
The police chief offered a similar view.
“As society continues to change, this request was not surprising,” he said of the plans for the beer garden.
The owner of one local restaurant not far from the parking lot where it will operate — whose establishment serves beer, said Wednesday he is not concerned about the competition but something else.
“It won’t hurt my business,” said Bob White, owner of Pandowdy’s Restaurant on North Main Street, who mentioned that he is friends with those who will run the beer garden. However, White is concerned about its effects on Mayberry Days in particular, which he says draws a different kind of attendee compared to the Autumn Leaves Festival.
“I’m not sure it will sit well with the people who come for Mayberry Days,” White said of the outdoor beer sales.
“A lot of them come because of the country atmosphere,” he said of the simple, down-home flavor of that gathering.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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