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Mixed feelings about successful street fest

Masterton District Council [MSD] is so “delighted” with the response to the inaugural Cultural Festival held last Saturday [September 9] that it seems likely councillors will support it becoming an annual event – but a number of nearby retailers aren’t as enthusiastic.

The festival marked the culmination of Masterton’s Welcoming Week, aimed at making newcomers to the region feel at home.

Staged on a closed-off Park St in Masterton’s CBD between 10am and 2pm, the free event featured “cultural performances, food, music, and fun”, and is estimated to have attracted “a couple of hundred people”, a council spokesperson said.

However, some retailers who operate on Queen St either side of Park St were feeling less than festive after the event, which they say cut off an important access point to their outlets, severely limited parking, and suppressed foot traffic, resulting in significantly less business than they’d normally expect on a sunny spring Saturday morning.

Paul Bodle, co-owner of Yardlands, which sells animal and garden supplies, feels particularly aggrieved by the council’s choice of location for the event, calling it “a bit of a kick in the teeth” as he voiced frustrations shared by several other nearby shop owners who preferred to speak off the record.

Although he’s quick to note he’s “all for having events in town”, which he sees as generally very positive, Bodle doesn’t believe MDC appreciates how “absolutely critical parking and street access are to our livelihoods”.

While he acknowledges a council representative did visit Queen St stores to give them a heads up “around two weeks” before the event, he’s not happy about the lack of consultation [“It was a done deal and they didn’t even leave a written notice”] and he dismisses the MDC spokesperson’s suggestion that “the festival could have been an opportunity for retailers … to reach out to people who may not have been aware of what is offered on Queen Street” as “naïve”.

“There’s a big difference in mindset and intent between people who come to town to shop and attend a free event,” Bodle said.

Nor does he buy the council’s rationale for its choice of location as being “prudent”, given recent wet weather meant there was no guarantee the ground at parks and recreation areas would be sufficiently dry – suggesting more suitable options would’ve been Farriers’ carpark or, better yet, the stadium.

Although the MDC spokesperson said there was “no change to parking enforcement” during the event, that wasn’t Bodle’s observation, who said a number of cars associated with the festival occupied unpaid-for parks for hours, with no warden in sight.

“Our customers get pinged all the time for just parking on white lines. It was very unusual.”

The consequent lack of available parks saw Bodle lugging 20kg bags of product to the far side of the library for several customers, he said.

Should the Cultural Festival become an annual event, however, retailers can probably expect to get some input next time around.

“We are always mindful of the effect of street closures on businesses and evaluate this against the benefits to the community of holding such events,” the MDC spokesperson said.

“While we are comfortable on this occasion we got the balance right, we are happy to consider feedback from retailers in plans for future events of this kind and are always open to hearing from this important group in our community.”

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