OysterFence Review, Recriminations Continue
Kevin L. Hoover & Bryn Robertson
ARCATA – If Arcata Main Street wanted to create the most talked-about Oyster Festival ever, it surely succeeded. But while the post-event discussion included many fond memories of family fun, music, beer and bivalve devourment, it was also marked by bitter stories of disappointment, lost business and broken communication.
For the first time, the Plaza event was enclosed by a chainlink fence, some segments of which were topped with barbed wire. The symbolism of a “Plaza gulag” was grossly offensive to some, as was the perception of privileged access to a public space or commons.
“Barbed-wire?” wrote former City Councilmember Julie Fulkerson in a Facebook post which showed a picture of the barbed-wire fence. “I hope this is Photoshopped. It is so not the Arcata I know and love.”
Others found the fence comforting, in that it kept out those with no up-front investment in the event’s success. The fence wasn’t noticeable from the grassy area of the Plaza, and didn’t seem to bother the hordes who lined up at each of the entry portals to pay the fee and get inside.
If the intention was to foster a more family-friendly festival free of panhandlers, predators, loose animals and excesses of behavior, those aspirations seemed to have been satisfied.
“Comments were overwhelmingly favorable,” said co-organizer Bill Chino. “It seems to me that everyone loved more of the family atmosphere.”
While event-related public drunkenness incidents occurred at about the usual rate, none of the seven arrests took place inside the fenced area.
Chino said attendance was down, as expected and intended. By the end of last week, Chino still hadn’t tallied the ticket stubs and redeemed beer chips to get an accurate attendance count. But he said there were “10,000 solid” attendees at least, down from the 16,000 to 18,000 which had crammed the Plaza in recent years. Main Street’s gross revenue from the event was estimated at about $70,000.
Arcata Main Street will analyze the OysterFest’s consequences – intended and otherwise – in weeks to come. Possibly complicating any findings and decision about whether to use the fence again will be a lack of consensus as to the impacts on businesses, both those within the festival and the ones on the outside of the fence.
Main Street Vice President Nick Matthews, who also owns Pacific Paradise on H Street, which was outside the festival, said the event was a long-term business builder. “I’d rather have 10,000 people walk by my store, even if they don’t buy anything that day,” he said. He said the wait time at participating Oysterfest vendors was down from 45 minutes to 10 or 15 minutes maximum.
But Rebecca LaCasse, owner of Eden, located outside the fence on a severely depopulated segment of Ninth Street, was critical. “It made me sad,” she said. “Fencing in a happening on the Plaza is very ‘un-Arcata.’”
LaCasse noted that the OysterFest has never been a big day for surrounding businesses. “But normally you at least have the opportunity to have new folks stroll though, to connect with people who may not have been here before… The fence took away those opportunities.”
She, like others, was critical of the lack of communication and coordination between Main Street and affected downtown businesses. “There were inherent problems with how the event was being organized,” she said. “There was a major breakdown in communication between Main Street and the majority of businesses in our charming downtown area.”
Portia Bramble, executive director of the North Coast Growers’ Association, which operates the Farmers’ Market, said the market suffered from being shouldered aside, relegated to an L-shaped segment of Eighth and I streets.
“It was terrible,” she said. “Very, very slow for all our vendors. It didn’t feel good to be on the outside.”
Bramble said the Farmers’ Market was “excluded” not just from the festival, but the planning for it. “We weren’t at the table,” she said. “We weren’t asked whether we wanted to be included.”
She said the NCGA board would discuss the matter and send Main Street a letter detailing its concerns. “I don’t favor the fence,” Bramble said. “I understand the need, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Plaza. It doesn’t complement our Farmers’ Market.”
Last week, Arcata Eye reporter Bryn Robertson surveyed Plaza businesses as to their OysterFest fortunes. Her findings:
• Delilah’s Hair Styling, closed for vacation, was inside fence, had a sign in the window reading, “Don’t Fence Me In.”
• Arcata Exchange, outside the fence, traffic was “a little down.”
• Art Center, outside the fence, closed all day, knew they wouldn’t be getting any business. Did not think the fence was the best problem-solving technique.
• Arcata Stationers, outside the fence, closed because of festival.
• Simply Macintosh, outside the fence, closed at 2 p.m., normally close at 4 p.m. Against the fence for future events.
• Rookery Books, outside the fence, did better than a normal Saturday, not as well as last Fest. Happy to support whatever people want next year with regard to the fence.
• North Soles, outside the fence, sales were not very good. Against the fence, even if they were included in it.
• Belle Starr, outside the fence, did poorly.
• Arcata Artisans, outside the fence, business was “very slow” and not a normal Saturday. Against having a fence next year.
• Caravan of Dreams, inside the fence, sales were down 25 to 30 percent compared to last festival. Against having a fence next year.
• The Garden Gate, inside of fence, did well.
• Arcata Liquors, outside the fence, did “horribly” and lost half on their biggest day of the year. Against fence next year
• Everett’s, outside the fence, down $3,000 to $4,000. Against having a fence next year.
• Yi Fang Imports, outside the fence, lost half on what used to be their best day of the year. Against the fence next year.
• Alibi, outside the fence, lost half its business.
• Sidelines, outside the fence, but closest to entrance and exit. Did about the same as last year.
• Panache Hair Salon, outside the fence, did “horribly,” normally booked on a Saturday and they had only a few clients, some of who canceled. Against a fence next year
• Hotel Arcata, outside the fence. The hotel was full, but guests did not like the fence. Would want a lot of discussion with the community before putting the fence up again.
• Natural Selection, outside the fence, down from last year. Totally against a fence next year.
• Jitterbean, outside the fence. Did slightly better than a normal business day. “Impartial” to the fence.
• Live From New York Pizza, outside the fence. Did terribly compared to past OysterFests. Against the fence: “Worst idea you could ever have.”
• Sushi Spot, restaurant outside, booth inside the fence, did OK. Thought the fence was a little weird.
• Essence of Humboldt, outside the fence. Did poorly, were completely cut out of all potential foot traffic. Against fence.
• Back to the Rack, outside the fence, did not do well compared to last year. Against fence next year.
• Eden seeds, outside the fence, did poorly. Against a fence next year.
• Hot Knots, outside the fence, did poorly compared to OysterFest in past years. Against fence next year.
• Moore’s Sleep World, inside the fence, closed. Closed for the past few years; didn’t want to deal with drunk people.
• Solutions, inside the fence. Down 40 percent.
• Moonrise Herbs, inside the fence. Down by 60 percent, closed early. Against a fence next year.
• Plaza, inside the fence. Did well, had an ice cart outside for people to place their beer while they shopped. Closed two hours early to “end on a high note.” Not sure about support of a fence next year but wouldn’t want be outside of it.
• Café Brio, outside of fence, down substantially, Saturday normally busiest day of the week. Thought it was “weird that so many [businesses] were excluded.”
• People’s Records, outside the fence, down from previous years. Against a fence next year.
• All Under Heaven, outside the fence, did poorly.
• Willow and Rags, inside of fence, did half of normal sales. Against $10 charge/fence
• Libation Wine Bar, inside fence, had a booth inside for the first part of the day. Did slightly worse than a normal Saturday. In favor of the fence next year.
• Mazzotti’s, inside of fence, did fine. The fence didn’t affect them, would maybe be against the fence if they were on the outside.
OysterFest vendors reported mixed results as well. Pita Grill operator Izzy Elidrissi said he was “screwed” by Main Street. He’d first been directed to set up on the Plaza’s northwest corner, then was relocated elsewhere. That may be why his entry in the Oyster Tasting Contest was ignored. Elidrissi faulted Main Street for poor communication. Nonetheless, he sold 1,300 oysters.
The Humboldt Crabs enjoyed normal attendance, experiencing none of the drunks who would normally be ejected from the festival and then wander over to the Arcata Ball Park and get into trouble.
Though fence opponent Luke Patterson closed Luke’s Joint after just an hour and a half out of fear for the safety of his employees over the “powder keg” brewing on the Plaza, APD Lt. Ryan Peterson said the event was overall, successful from a public safety standpoint. Assistant Fire Chief Desmond Cowan said things went “swimmingly,” as far as his department was concerned.
Mayor Shane Brinton, who was the sole council vote against the fence-and-fee concept, said the festival was a success. “For the way it was set up, it went very well in terms of public safety,” he said. “I don’t think there was a consensus” on the fence, he added.