22 October 2018

[MBM] - Trouble on the Square; What Happened on Saturday?

The Piedmont Chronicles

[UPDATED - 10/22/18; 5:10PM] 
*see below under original piece

This past Saturday, October 20th, a permitted event - Witches Night Out & the Moonlight Dash - was held on the Covington Square from 12 to 9PM. This was the 5th year in a row that this event was held in Covington.

Things, as evidenced by its trending on social media, took a turn for the worse in the afternoon hours when apparently members of Covington Code Enforcement arrived on the scene to give notice that some of the vendors were not able to be present due to purported regulations with the permitting process that is handled by Main Street Covington & the Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce, namely that vendors set up on the Square cannot sell competing items that are found at one of the Square merchants. No word as to if this is actually codified or not. I'm looking into it...

One thing that has been agreed upon by pretty much everyone involved was that this process was mishandled in very much a tone-deaf manner. In hindsight, things likely should've been handled after the event. Instead, we were left with people crying & at least a few vendors that packed up & left as a show of protest. Sad.

A now-screen-shot-ed, Facebook post that later went semi-viral encapsulated the American time-honored tradition of needing to blame somebody for something. This post pinned all the blame on the owners of The Soap Box & River Outfitters for making the call to get the ball rolling. Two different sources say that Ralph Staffins, president of the Chamber, was the driving force behind getting Code Enforcement involved. Other said other things. It sounds like it just turned into a mess with - again - folks crying, others vowing to boycott ALL of the business on the Square & at least one person who wanted desperately to pin the blame on Mr. Mayor keeping alive the recent Covington tradition of "JDS" - Johnston Derangement Syndrome.

I think something I posted on a FB thread on Sunday pretty much captured the rub:

"Regardless, it seems that it was poorly handled. My sources say that it was the Chamber, ultimately, that was the driving force behind it being mishandled in such a way that several vendors who could have stayed decided to pack up as a show of protest. 


And finally, whether if it was handled in a poor manner or not, it does seem that the beginning of the chain of events that caused all of this was a Square business (or businesses) complaining. 

So...plenty of blame to go around, including with the event organizers. 

It looked to be a Murphy’s Law scenario where everything that could go wrong, did. 

Oh well, that’s life. I think everyone’s gonna survive..."

So, we've kind of covered the who, what, where & when of things, the gist, as it were; but what of the "Real Story," that thing TPC prides itself on?  
I believe Saturday was a breaking point for several merchants on the Square. For the third weekend in a row, a major event was being held on the Square. The previous two had seen it blocked off. Saturday saw rolling blocks during the course of the 5K. It's become pretty much a consensus view that many of these events are not benefiting most of the Square businesses. If so, then many of these things are messing up parking & traffic flow while creating adverse conditions for local businesses.

The concerns are nothing new. A merchants' meeting was held several months ago with Main Street & the Chamber voicing these issues & apparently nothing ever got done about it.

And let's go back to the last few months. With the exception of one production, none of the filming  projects paid for businesses' hardships as is customary tradition. They have money in their budgets to cover these expenses, but my sources tell me the deals worked out by the Chamber were bad deals that didn't look out for the interests of the Square merchants. And that, by many accounts, is the big problem right now. If you took a poll right now of local businesses as to their approval of Main Street & The Chamber, it would, based on what I can see, not paint either of those organizations in a positive light.

Again, it seems as if this was a proverbial Murphy's Law day, where everything went wrong. But unfortunately there is a pretty large contingent of folks who seem hell bent on boycotting the Covington Square. Others are upset with the city. Still others blame Main Street Covington, and the Chamber.

It's a bit of a mess.

To get that "Real Story," I think a few questions have to get answered:

1. Is there an actual set of regulations with the permit application spelling out what types of vendors are allowed? This application is under the purview of Main Street Covington.

2. If there are (and I recently saw one of these applications & I don't have any recollection of it), then does blame ultimately fall squarely on the organizers of the event for not having disclosed that to the vendors, or were the vendors themselves at fault for simply ignoring it?

3. Most everyone seems to agree that it was mishandled. Were the code enforcement officers too heavy-handed with their enforcement duties?

I've reached out to several folks & I've got more reaching out to do, so this story is very much developing...

On a final note, I think that maybe a silver lining could be found with this thing. Perhaps the city should take over the scheduling, application acceptance & regulation of the events on the Square. After all, it's Covington that has the IGA with the county for operation of the Square. They've contracted that out to the Chamber, and by extension, Main Street, for the last few years. Might there be too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak? Just let the city handle it.

And I think another part of the real story is this:

There are many out there that think the Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce & Main Street Covington are not operating the way they should be. That things should be better. Maybe this unfortunate episode will bring to the forefront this situation so that the merchants, citizens, politicians, officials & other stakeholders can get all of this sorted out.

That's all for now. Until next time. 


The Chronicles feel comfortable reporting the following based on a conversation with a very reliable source:

- No City of Covington Code Enforcement officers were involved; CPD was on the scene, but didn't have anything to do with requiring vendors to leave, per sources.

- Ralph Staffins, with the Chamber, allegedly, was the one directly involved with telling certain vendors to leave.

- It is specified in the event application that certain businesses/items are prohibited.

- The Soap Store was not involved with anything to do with reporting the vendors; the only thing they dealt with was an young employee being verbally assaulted by an angry vendor.


- M.B. McCart, Editor