Residents: what about us?

Published 1:59 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Living with downtown festivals has become challenging


By Diana McFarland

News editor

Parking and difficulty getting to and from their homes top the list of concerns facing some downtown residents during Smithfield’s growing number of events requiring street closures, as well as a sense that town and tourism officials do not care.

Some downtown residents said they’ve been threatened with having their cars being towed, visitors have parked in their yards, and they were unable to get home with groceries. Night workers said they are unable to sleep because of the noise, and the list goes on. 

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“All of these events are good for the town, but if you live down here, it’s a huge issue,” said Michael Butkus who lives on Chalmers Row off Cedar Street.

“My biggest concern is what are they doing for us,” he said.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams agrees.

“We have got to put a handle on this big time,” he said.

“We have to take care of the citizens that live here and the businesses that are affected. A whole lot better communication needs to be worked out,” Williams said.

Cami Brooks has lived on Main Street for 30 years and has seen downtown evolve from a place for residents to do business to more and more of a tourist venue.

Brooks is often unaware that an event is in the offing until she sees the no parking notices go up on lampposts the day before.

Claudine Carey, who lives on Cedar Street, doesn’t go to the events, but “they’re (the town) going to do what they want to,” she said with a shrug.

Mason Street resident Pamela Young suggested downtown residents get a special sign or tag for their car so that police officers and other officials know they live within the blocked off areas.

The issue came to a head last month when several large events were scheduled simultaneously as well as others back-to-back, leading to a traffic “catastrophe,” in the words of one organizer.  And this year, there continues to be a long list of events that require street closures and will likely attract large crowds. Next up is the BOB Fest this weekend, which calls for closing Jericho Road from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., followed by the Vintage Market on March 12, which calls for closing Main Street from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. The BOB Fest is expected to draw 1,500 people, while the Vintage Market is expected to bring 7,000 people to Smithfield, according to event applications filed with the town.

Isle of Wight County Tourism Director Judy Winslow said the growing attendance and number of events are “the kind of problems you want to have.”

“We’re having to learn to manage our popularity,” she said, adding that it’s far different than begging people to come.

Winslow said tourism and other officials are meeting to resolve many of the recent problems. Tourism officials is also waiting on results from a survey of downtown merchants, which is due Friday. Winslow said they decided Monday to possibly offer “hang tags” for residents living on and near affected downtown streets. The “hang tags” are similar to handicapped tags and will be distributed along with a letter to residents about upcoming street closures. The tags will also be available at the Visitor Center, Winslow said, adding that the changes will eventually go before the Smithfield Town Council for approval.

Many who live downtown, however, love the activity and work around the crowds, traffic and street closures.

Retired Judge Robert Edwards, who has an office on Main Street, said that while he sometimes has a problem with parking, he’s glad that Smithfield has become so attractive and that people enjoy coming to see the town.

Edwards recalls that when he was growing up, the downtown area was not quite so pretty.

“It’s the cost of doing business if we’re going to have functions, Edwards said. {/mprestriction}