Members of the Toad Suck Daze Committee and Conway Area Chamber of Commerce staff met with a group of downtown merchants on Monday to discuss ongoing efforts to reach a compromise about the future of Toad Suck Daze.
Shortly after the festival, a petition to move Toad Suck Daze out of downtown collected 43 signatures. Merchants say the three-day event slows their business for several days prior to the festival, and many of them close for the duration of Toad Suck Daze.
The committee members and chamber staff brought several ideas back to the table for discussion Monday night, and the merchants offered a number of their own suggestions as well.
Mary Margaret Satterfield, director of events for the chamber, revisited a plan to change Oak Street between Front and Court Streets during the festival from an expo area to a retail corridor. She said putting high-end retail booths in the middle of the street would hopefully complement the merchants in the area while at the same time taking some booths off Main and Locust Streets, relieving some congestion. She said the retail corridor would incentivize people unfamiliar with downtown Conway to visit that part of town who might have otherwise avoided it when it was an expo area.
Jeff Brooks, owner of Brooks Fine Jewelry, located at Oak Street and Parkway, said he would prefer it if all the booths were moved to the middle of the streets so that customers could easily access all downtown businesses.
"They closed me three days last year. It cost me a lot of money to be closed," he said.
Several merchants were in favor of moving all the booths to the middle of the streets. Satterfield said the fire department might not allow it because emergency vehicles might not be able to pass through the streets, but she would look into it.
Business owners also said the timing of the festival is a burden because it falls on the first of the month, during graduations and right before Mother’s Day, all of which are crucial times for retail, they said. The group suggested moving the festival back to the last week in April. Satterfield said all of the vendors are booked out a couple of years, but she will talk to them about the possibility of moving it after that.
Another idea business owners posed was that of advertising. They suggested the Toad Suck Daze Committee might advertise that downtown shops are open during the festival.
Liz Snipan of EM Jeans said, "Do you ever mention in your advertising how great the shops and restaurants are in downtown? We have some of the finest boutique shopping in the south."
The merchants also favored being given first right of refusal on the booths located directly in front of their storefronts.
Satterfield said the children’s rides will be moved from in front of Lender’s Title and Model Cleaners to the courthouse area. She also said workers will begin setting up the festival later in the evening so that merchants can conclude their business.
Several merchants expressed distaste for the carnival rides, saying the festival has grown too big for downtown and the rides are part of the problem. However, they recognized that the rides are a major revenue generator for the scholarships the festival provides.
Sena Crafton summarized the frustration of many of the business owners, "It’s outgrown the area," she said. "It’s hard to come up with a solution. There doesn’t seem to be a fix. I love the compromise but there doesn’t seem to be a fix. Toad Suck is going to make money no matter where it is, but it takes us a long time to recover."
Dr. Jeff Standridge of the chamber board said, "If we can make it incrementally better … I think we have a responsibility to you all to make it better every year."
(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)