Arts Center director says street market poorly managed

Published 12:22 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A street closing request for an autumn vintage market spurred Arts Center Director Sheila Gwaltney to raise concerns about its management.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Gwaltney spoke Monday at the Smithfield Town Council Police Committee meeting about the request, which calls for 7,000 attendees and 60 vendors to be spread out over the 100-300 blocks of Main Street in downtown Smithfield.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Market Manager Cheryl Ketcham is requesting that the street be closed from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. that day.

Armed with photos from last year’s Christmas market, Gwaltney said a vendor set up tents and blocked off the Arts Center @319, which significantly reduced visibility and traffic to the facility. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

It’s private property, Gwaltney said.

Gwaltney said that when she was finally able to speak with Ketcham, she was told it was “too much trouble” to make the vendor move.

“She was in her shop at her cash register,” said Gwaltney, referring to Ketcham’s business, Findley’s General Store, where she invited Smithfield Farmers Market vendors to set up permanent displays.

Ketcham also manages the weekly Smithfield Farmers Markets.

Another issue is that the Christmas market had planned on 80 vendors but about 120 showed up, Gwaltney said.

Gwaltney accused Ketcham of lacking “situational awareness” and told the Council committee that “more oversight needs to be done.”

The reality of more than 80 vendors “will be a big headache to residents and vendors on Main Street,” Gwaltney said.

Gwaltney said she didn’t know who to complain to about the issue, adding that the weekly Farmers Markets, confined to the parking lot of Bank of Southside Virginia, do not cause a problem, but the sprawling street markets create challenges.

Ketcham and Isle of Wight County Director of Tourism Judy Winslow did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Smithfield Town Council member Milton Cook said the farmers and specialty markets fall under tourism, which is run by Isle of Wight County.

All Smithfield does is contribute money to the agency, and “we do not have direct authority,” Cook said.

Smithfield Town Council member Randy Pack said it was important to pay attention to Gwaltney’s concerns.

The town doesn’t want to run off downtown merchants in favor of out-of-town vendors, he said.

Parks and Recreation Director Amy Musick withdrew the application and said that in light of Gwaltney’s concerns, the issue would be discussed at next week’s Special Events Committee meeting, which considers event applications before they go to the Town Council.

The special events committee, which reviews applications for events, is appointed by Mayor Carter Williams and includes town council members, town staff, tourism staff and members of the Smithfield Police Department.

In an interview last year with The Smithfield Times, Ketcham described the markets as similar to a “small business” that receives a monetary contribution from the town of Smithfield and budgetary oversight from Isle of Wight County.

Ketcham’s salary and other expenses are dependent upon vendor fees.

This year, Ketcham and Tourism made a concession concerning its spring vintage market by moving it to the Isle of Wight County fairgrounds near Windsor.  {/mprestriction}