By: By Tom Joyce
September 21, 2013
I’m the kind of person who likes to break things down to their lowest common denominator — to cut to the chase, if you prefer a popular phrase in today’s vernacular.
For example, if someone takes a certain position on an issue, my mind immediately starts analyzing what stake that individual might have in the situation which causes them to have such a stance. Is there a financial motivation involved or a political one — could it be a simple ego trip?
I put on my lowest-common-denominator thinking cap this week after a disclosure that some local businessmen plan to operate a beer garden in a downtown parking lot during the upcoming Mayberry Days and Autumn Leaves Festival.
As might be expected given the traditional behavior patterns in our little hamlet, this revelation sparked a tremendous hue and cry from some segments of the community — aka the proverbial powers that be.
But in doing my usual situational breakdown, a central question found its way into my brain and that is: Who owns Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival?
Of course, the Surry Arts Council and Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce sponsor the respective events. And let me say unequivocally that they do a fine job with the massive undertaking required to assemble all the ingredients for festivals that have been enjoyed for many years.
A city ordinance empowers each of those organizations to govern what vendors and attractions can be part of their events in the downtown area, specifically public venues such as streets and sidewalks.
Yet having such creative control, as it were, doesn’t necessarily answer the question of who actually “owns” Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival.
The way I see it, both events are public property to a large extent, meaning they belong to the city itself — and every man, woman and child who resides here.
Here again, my lowest-common-denominator instincts tell me that the whole purpose of these events is tourism, and you hear this time and time again from their organizers. They will cite statistics showing the tremendous impact the two fall festivals have on local lodging establishments, restaurants, etc.
One of the main criticisms I’ve heard this week regarding the beer garden plans is basically that those guys (its organizers) “are just doing it to make money.” That’s despite the fact a portion of the beer garden proceeds will go to a non-profit medical organization, although the amount or percentage hasn’t been disclosed.
But why should making money off Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival be such a dirty little secret? After all, isn’t that what the funnel cake and various and sundry other commercial vendors are trying to do?
People might say Mayberry Days is all about paying homage to “The Andy Griffith Show,” and this might generally be true among festival supporters. Yet seriously, how many of those on the selling end of things would really care about a television series from the 1960s if they weren’t making money off same?
We also hear so much talk about how the purpose of the Autumn Leaves Festival is to celebrate our mountain ways. Yet aside from the old-time music presented during the event, it otherwise has come to resemble a street version of the Home Shopping Network.
Meanwhile, festival fixtures such as a wagon train parade, moonshine distillery exhibit and a petting zoo with farm animals have fallen by the wayside over the years. I guess they took up space someone could have been using to sell something.
So with all the enterprises that set up shop around the city during Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival, downtown and otherwise, how can someone reasonably object to beer sales?
I suspect that part of this is due to the double standard surrounding beer and wine in this area. There are few major functions you can attend here nowadays where someone isn’t shoving a glass of wine in your face.
This mirrors the fact there are so many wineries around and viticulture has become a big part of the local tourism industry. If a beer company came here and hired 1,000 people, I’m sure that suds would be shoved in everybody’s faces during those major functions, and no one would complain about any alleged erosion of family values at festivals.
As a consumer who believes in everyone being treated fairly in our great free enterprise system, I object to someone saying one legal commodity or product can be sold during Mayberry Days or the Autumn Leaves Festival while another is taboo.
If the true intent of these events is drawing visitors from near and far in the name of touri$m — which again, is a nicer way of saying we all want to make money off those crowds — why should beer sales be excluded?
Here again, the two events belong to EVERYONE in the city and shouldn’t be subjected to value judgments by a small group of people.
Someone once told me that the best way to plan a party is not to say this guy can come and another can’t, but to invite everyone in order to ensure a diverse array.
If we can’t have festivals that allow everybody in town to capitalize on them — which, “surprise, surprise,” is really what they’re about — we should just call the party off altogether, which I’m sure no one is willing to do.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or email@example.com.