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July 25, 2013

'Furthur' anger expressed

Cooperstown Crier

---- — Merchant anger went “Furthur” at the Cooperstown village’s monthly board of trustees meeting on Monday.

“We really work so very hard to follow all of the rules we are asked to follow in this village,” said Renee LaFond, who owns Little Bo’tique on Main Street, and was one of four people speaking out against the concert during the public comment section of the meeting. 

“We’re hanging on by our fingernails,” she said.

LaFond said that she felt annoyed that “Shakedown Street” merchants didn’t have to get permits or follow rules during the weekend around the July 14 concert at Doubleday Field. 

“Those people had no intention of supporting our shops, supporting our restaurants, supporting our taverns,” she added.

Her anger was amplified by Brian Paterno of Paterno Brothers Sports on Main Street.

 “This weekend I will have to pay a $100 fee to put a table in front of my store, but they were allowed to set up for free. You guys are burying us. I am not talking about the parking. I am talking about the tedious stuff like signs and tables,” he said, adding that he felt the concert was an “absolute disaster.”

Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz had previously said that the village would try to contain rather than try to shut down or require permits from vendors who follow the Grateful Dead legacy band. The village tried to force the merchants into the municipal lot on Chestnut Street, a plan which worked but not to perfection. But the perception that laws would be suspended for one weekend, irked many merchants and residents.

Asked Chestnut Street resident Jim Donley: “I’d just like to ask, where does the authority to suspend laws come from?”

Not everyone spoke out against the concert, however. 

“I for one would like to thank the board for bringing Furthur to Cooperstown,” said Patti Ashley of Ashley-Connor Realty on Pioneer Street. “I’d been hoping they would come here for two years. My son flew in for the weekend and we had a very good time.”

“I like to preach tolerance,” she continued, “and I felt Cooperstown was very tolerant. In addition, after the weekend was over there was not one drop of garbage on our lawn, which is not what I’d be able to say after some baseball weekends.”

At the start of the meeting, Katz read a statement about the concert.

“I’ve spoken to a wide variety of people and the opinions range from ‘This one was hit out of the park’ to ‘this past weekend’s disgraceful event.’ From merchants I’ve heard both positive and negative comments, including that some did well,” he said in his statement.

Katz said that with about 6,000 tickets sold, the village will make $11,000 plus another $1,200 from local ticket sales. After a $1,000 donation to the Cooperstown Emergency Medical Squad, plus overtime for various municipal workers, the village will clear several thousand dollars on the event. A donation — based on a percentage of food and beverages sales —  from the promoter, Magic City Productions of Endicott, will go to the Cooperstown Fire Department.

Cooperstown Police Chief Mike Covert said the village made nine arrests for illegal drugs and EMS sent nine people to Bassett Medical Center for drug-related problems. In addition, Covert said the state police, on a routine traffic stop of a suspicious van on the day of the show, arrested a man for possession of 270 hits of LSD.

“There was no allowing of drugs,” Covert said. “My problem was I had to pick and choose my fights because I have a force of seven officers. But we had police here from the county and the state. They were all on the perimeter and they did all of the buckle up checks, the DUI checks, cell phone violations, just like they do when there is a concert at Ommegang.”

“I know there were complaints about the smell of marijuana at the concert, but that is not just at Furthur. That is at any concert. If you went to the Sugarland concert, you could smell marijuana there too, and I know that for a fact because I went to that concert,” he said.

Covert said that his officers tried repeatedly to stop the illegal sale of alcohol, which several merchants complained about. 

“We told them that they could not sell it unless they had a tax license and permit,” he said.

After the meeting, Katz said that his overall impression of the weekend was that it went well, but he acknowledged that not everyone shared his assessment.

“It is not that it was without incident, and we were aware of the incidents,” he said, “but that overall it went pretty well.

“I was trying to think of what the reaction would have been if we did not have the concert,” he added. “This was the only concert that we were offered this year. Can you imagine the reaction if we turned it down and that got out? People would have been yelling that in a year with a low turnout expected for Induction Weekend, how could we turn down an opportunity to have a concert like this? So it was a no-win situation with some people, and we knew that.”

In other news, the trustees set two public hearings for their Aug. 26 meeting. The first will be about setting a standard for the size of parking spaces in the business districts. The second will look at amending vending laws, a big priority for Katz.

“A few years ago, a merchant said something that really struck me,” he said, “when he said that the times we as a village are supposed to look our best, we look our worst.”

Katz said he hopes that he and the trustees can get feedback from the merchants about how to allow more outside vending while “matching the aesthetics we are looking for with the commercial interests.”