Monday’s meeting of the Belleville National Strawberry Festival Board of Directors was considered a wrap-up session, with reports from various committee chairman on the festival with intentions to improve next year’s event.
But before the regular business, Board President Tom Fielder gave the public a chance to speak and Mike Foley of Frosty Boy had a complaint.
After it was all said and done, the board voted unanimously to give $35 to Foley to cover the stop-payment fee on a check he gave to the festival and then withdrew.
Foley said he believed the way Vendor Chairman Sharon Pokerwinski handled a payment from Foley to the festival was fraud.
He said he was told that the vendor spaces were full and so for him to have the spaces in front of his business open to the street, he would have to pay $250. He gave Pokerwinski the check and then saw that the spaces in front of his place were vacant anyway and there were no vendors up to Five Points.
“I believe that was fraud,” he told the board. “I was told it was full to get money. On the phone a couple of days ago, she told me it was a gift. Last year I lost 50% of my business during construction and I can’t even afford to sponsor a Little League team this year.
“I was absolutely ready to jump through the phone when she said it was a donation,” Foley said.
He said as soon as he saw the setup Thursday night and Friday and saw not one vendor south of Goofy’s car wash, he decided he shouldn’t have had to pay. That’s when he put a stop-payment order on the check and incurred a $35 fee. He asked the festival board to reimburse him.
He also complained about the Boy Scouts dumping trash in his dumpster on Thursday and Friday until it was full. They told him they were told to use the dumpster behind Frosty Boy.
He said he decided not to go to court over what he considered fraud until talking to the full board.
Pokerwinski said Foley had told her, in front of her family after they had purchased ice cream at his shop, that he wanted to do what he could for the festival.
She said they decided 23 food vendors were enough and those were all sold out.
He had four spots in front of his business and that would equal $400, Pokerwinski said. He asked me to give him a price and I said $250, she told the board.
“We were sold out of food vendors. That was not a lie,” Pokerwinski said.
Joan Bodnar, the festival’s executive director, explained that the scout leader who usually supervises the boys had to work Friday night and the dumpster episode was a mistake. They were supposed to use the dumpster behind Mr. Goofy’s, she said.
Festival President Fielder said selling Foley two spaces in a place where “nothing exists” is not the right thing to do.
“I’ve always worked with the board and even was on the board in the past,” Foley said, noting he brought in motorcyclists as entertainment to add to the festival.
“She led me to believe something was true to get money,” Foley said. “Now she explains it’s food vendors she meant when she said ‘we’re sold out.’”
Pokerwinski said the festival had 16 craft vendors open and they were put in a central location.
Fielder said Pokerwinski had charge of commercial vendors. He asked for a motion to put the reimbursement of $35 on the agenda for action and Bob Stoner made the motion, seconded by Diane Shew.
“This is not to beat Sharon up,” Fielder stated. “She was full and they put crafters in the middle.”
Robert Austin of Brown Bag restaurant said he had problems with the festival, too. He said last year he paid $200 for a space for his restaurant. He said this year he was told it would be $500 per space.
He said, right off the bat, merchants who are in the city all year long are charged more. He said he should be able to get some consideration. He said he couldn’t afford the $1,000, so he decided to barbecue at his place, which he had done for three weeks “with the city’s approval.”
He said he got calls from merchants telling me, “Robert better not be cooking out there.”
Austin said over the Strawberry Festival weekend, the festival filed a police report on the cooking outside and outside seating, he said.
“I think it’s unfair that festival will pick on people who are here all year long,” Austin said.
He said his wife owns a boutique and she was asked if she could sell outside. “Whether it was her or her employee who was asked makes no difference. She had a sidewalk sale permit obtained previously.”
He said the Strawberry Festival should be a part of this community and not just make money and leave. He also said they should be nicer to merchants.
“Someone from Strawberry Festival filed a complaint, with no name,” Austin said, adding it was true that he did not have a permit.
“Since then, I’ve applied through the city and it’s working its way through the system,” Austin said. “I continue to cook with the approval of the city.”
Pokerwinski said she and Bodnar “had a conversation” with the police chief and he had to ask the city manager for information. She said Diana Kollmeyer said he could cook, but not have outdoor seating or a band.
“We were talking to the chief about two different things – the gospel people and him,” Pokerwinski said, adding she talked to Shawna Austin’s mother and “she said Shawna wasn’t there, then I left.”
She said last year all the food vendors were charged $500 each and, “We let him go.”
Fielder said this year Austin did not have a spot and he was an independent businessman doing his business at his regular location.
“It’s unfortunate the Strawberry Festival was the one that pointed it out to the city,” Fielder said. “Shawna also was not in the festival venue.
“If the Strawberry Festival was involved, I apologize,” Fielder said.
“I had seats outside since April when I opened,” Austin said. He said he asked the city council if the Strawberry Festival has carte blanche on that street for the festival and the council said no. Fielder also said, “No.”
“Some of the merchants think the festival does have control of how we do business during the festival,” Austin said.
Foley asked about the situation at Mr. Goofy’s where the owner was directed to shut down vendors he had sold space to.
Fielder said Goofy’s was in direct competition with what was going on on the street. But with Robert and Shawna, they are not within the festival district and, “It’s unfortunate that it was done.”
Austin said, “You had entertainment in Mike’s lot and he didn’t have a permit from the city, so I felt I was singled out. I hired entertainers on my own dime to add to the festival when I read they weren’t having entertainment this year.”
The festival committee then discussed business matters and reports on the festival, which had increased revenues of $14,750 this year. Sponsor revenue at $35,000 was $8,000 more than expected, said Bodnar.
A letter received from the Chamber of Commerce earlier that day, giving the festival 30 days to terminate use of cubicle space at the chamber building, was put on the agenda and discussed. The festival representatives will talk to the chamber first before making any plans.