No more free beer |

No more free beer

Cliff Thompson

It will mean no more free beer or hot dogs at the parties, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and will be in part, the subject of a Vail Chamber and Business Association board meeting today.

A dozen Vail restaurants petitioned the chamber last week to change how the block party, held at Seibert Circle at the top of Bridge Street, is conducted. Free beer and food are given away during the evening street party, which includes entertainment.

Owners of bars and restaurants, however, say free beverages and food make it difficult to sell food and drinks.

But Chamber board member Steve Rosenthal said Wednesday there was no attendance at chamber meetings in March and April from businesses concerned about potential impacts at planning meetings for the block parties.

A compromise position reached by the chamber will result in subsequent block party participants being charged $2 for a beer and hot dog, Rosenthal said.

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But the block party issue is attached to other portions of the woof and weave of the community. Like anything involving a small-town chamber of commerce, the background politics can get personal, depending on whose ox is being gored. The block party issue gets to the very heart of the chamber’s promotional activities and give-aways, which can impact a chamber member’s bottom line.

“The block party is a warm-and-fuzzy thing locals and tourist love,” he said. “The chamber is a perfect organization to take a pot shots at. We represent 600 businesses.”

“Our position is we have given everyone in this area ample time to resist what we were doing, since March,” added Chamber Director Rob Giles. “Nobody came by and said anything. This has been an event that has been around for many years and it has been fine with everyone.”

Still boiling?

Despite the chamber’s compromise, the situation boiled over and into the Vail Town Council Chambers Tuesday night as business owners asked the town to help resolve the issue.

Town Council members declined to intervene, however, requesting the businesses and the chamber’s board of directors work things out.

The town appoints a special events commission, but guidelines will not be approved until January.

The chamber’s guidelines, meanwhile, were adopted three weeks ago, Rosenthal said, after the block parties had already begun. Those guidelines suggest product give-aways will be made only with the town’s permission and prohibit product give-aways that will impact specific product merchants without their permission.

The chamber depends heavily on the town for its operating budget, receiving $355,000 for 2002, so any issue brought before the town council that could affect funding is quickly noticed.

“(The block party’s) a great thing,” said Andrew Stratton, bar manager of The Red Lion on Bridge Street. “Friday afternoons, it’s pretty busy and it tends to draw people out of the restaurants and into the street. It might work better on a different day.

“When you’re giving away free beer and free food right outside our restaurant, nobody’s going to pay.”

Petition organizer Steve Kaufman of The Tap Room at Bridge Street, said he estimates the block party has reduced his business Friday nights by as much as 40 percent.

That figure is disputed, however, by Rosenthal, who said only about 200 beers are given away at block parties.

At Los Amigos, manager Tim Curran said his sales have been impacted, too. “The free beer thing has been hurting us. There’s a lot of people in front of the place, but not many of them come in.”

Part of the dispute appears to be the manner in which the chamber addresses members’ concerns. Kaufman said he’s frustrated with the reception he’s gotten.

Red Lion owner Phil Long agrees.

“I made a phone call and asked a few questions, and the arrows started to fly,” Long said. “I would like to be treated with respect and not like a trouble-maker.”

Chamber president Kaye Ferry declined to return phone calls Wednesday, referring them to Rosenthal, who said he met with Kaufman seven or eight times attempting to resolve the issue. At one point, Rosenthal said, they agreed to charge $2.

Kaufman later decided to reject the idea, saying he believes the issue runs deeper than just free beer and hot dogs. He said he believes a change needs to be made.

Sponsor gone

“At this point in time for the VCBA to exist, it would be best for the business community if there was a new leadership of the VCBA,” Kaufman said. “They are not speaking on the businesses’ behalf. Kaye (Ferry) has that aura about her that people are afraid of her.”

One casualty of the situation is loss of one of the sponsors. Coors notified the chamber it is backing out of its sponsorship after determining giving away beer at a street party was affecting beer sales at local establishments. The company will, however, honor its $3,000 sponsorship payment.

“The concerns have been voiced to us from our customers on Bridge Street and are specifically related to the offering of free beer during this event and how it directly affects Friday business in these accounts,” said Dale Kopec, general sales manager of Coors.

Editor’s note: The Vail Daily is a sponsor of Vail’s block parties, and Bob Brown, general manager of the newspaper group of which the Daily is a part, has a small ownership stake in The Tap Room at Bridge Street and The Sanctuary.

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