Editor: This is a repost that was originally published on February 5, 2009.
Last week we ran a report about flyers handed out on Newport Avenue that pointed the finger at the owners of Blondstone as being behind a letter writing campaign that could lead to closing down the OB Farmers’ Market, the Holiday Parade, and other events that include craft fairs. That report prompted numerous people to comment on this site (the blogospheric equivalent of letters to the editor). Shane Smith and Heidi Holman, the husband-wife team that owns the store, also contacted us, asking for an opportunity to express their point of view. Yesterday I sat down with Shane; this story is a result of that get-together.
Shane Smith is angry. It’s an anger that bubbles just below the surface, as opposed to the kind that makes the face red and the veins on the temples throb. Over the course of our conversation, his composed demeanor would start to slide…the anger would flash in his eyes for just a moment…and then he’d right himself. It’s the kind of anger that comes from frustration, and he certainly seems to have plenty of frustrations to talk about.
Nine years ago, Shane and Heidi opened Blondstone on Newport Avenue. The existence of the OB Farmers’ Market was one of the things that attracted him to the location. (They opened a second location in La Jolla two years later.) Heidi is, by all accounts, an extraordinarily talented jewelry designer. Beautifully designed pieces of silver jewelry, incorporating shells, beach glass, and semi-precious stones are displayed throughout the premises. At the back of the place she creates her works of art, twisting and setting, soldering and stamping the pieces that will eventually bear her mark.
The store is an island of serenity, located right smack in the middle of the block of OB’s main drag that, every Wednesday, erupts into the near-chaos that surrounds any bustling street market. And, yes, the pieces in the store sell for a great deal more than those displayed on the rag-tag collections that show up on the street each week.
The contention between Blondstone and the Farmers’ Market goes back four years, according to Shane, when the market was allowed to expand from about forty vendors to around one hundred. At that point, more non-farm vendors (crafts & prepared foods) were encouraged to come in, and the results-from Blondstone’s point of view-were very discouraging. Sales at the shop plummeted on market days. What galls him is that the decisions about the market are being made by the very organization (Main Street) that he feels should be advocating and defending his economic interests.
Asked about what specific actions he has taken with regard to the Farmers’ Market and other similar events, Shane pointed to two things: a request to the City Parks & Recreation Department to enforce existing regulations, and an inquiry he’d made last year about the efficacy of a craft fair that was held for three consecutive Saturdays prior to Christmas at Veteran Park (Newport & Abbott). He claims that he received a letter back from a member of the OB Town Council inviting him to take his business elsewhere. He also claims that attendees at a recent Council meeting were encouraging people to picket and boycott his business. Attempts to reason with Main Street and the Town Council on his part, he says, have been either ignored or distorted.
Shane told me that Blondstone is in no way opposed to any of the events and activities that occur in OB. “Just don’t hurt us”, he said. He went on to explain that all he’s seeking is for the Farmer’s Market to become more of a venue for locally produced food products. Many of the crafts booths, he says, are actually selling imported goods-as opposed to local arts & crafts-that could well be made in sweatshops overseas. And the conversation was peppered with suggestions that many of the activities that go on around the Farmers’ Market are in violation of assorted agency rules and regulations.
Historically there has been conflict within the business community and with the community at large about the direction and focus of activities along Newport Avenue. Some of us remember when “dirty hippies”, according to some former Town Council members, needed to be run out of Ocean Beach, lest they doom local businesses to failure. Now some of those hippies are movers and shakers in the community. This particular conflict might be a little different (or not); the frustration obvious in Shane Smith’s interview might also be indicative of a Main Street organization that’s insensitive or out of touch with what’s actually happening on “main street”.
In the next few days we’ll be visiting with the folks at OB Main Street to hear their side of the story. And we’ll let you know what we find out. Keep the comments coming!