BY IVAN SANDERS
A “fairly significant” number of downtown business owners do not want Carter County Car Club’s weekly cruises to continue through downtown Elizabethton each week.
“I was a member of the Downtown Business Association when the original auto club approached us to host the auto show several years ago,” said Joe Alexander, owner of Alexander Insurance Agency. “The main problem seems to be the same since the start of the car shows and it is car owners bringing their cars before the start time of the car show and occupying parking spaces in front of businesses , maybe even four hours before the show starts. to start up.
“I’m not open on Saturdays and that doesn’t really affect me, but according to the ETSU independent survey…71% of business owners want a change and that’s quite significant.”
Earlier this month, Elizabethton City Council gave approval for the auto club to continue the controversial Saturday night cruise events, with considerations for other downtown events.
But Alexander and other downtown business owners say owners of cars arriving early and occupying parking spaces in front of storefronts limit their ability to do business.
In November and December 2021, East Tennessee State University conducted a nine-question survey on the issue. These surveys were sent to 148 companies, of which 48 responded.
Joy McCray, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said cruises are not necessarily a positive event for small businesses or local businesses.
“With retail and all shopping, everyone has their own demographics,” McCray said. “Not everyone is there to buy the same thing and not everyone is there to shop at the same store. You have a different customer base for different stores and that’s great because it’s what makes them all unique and very unique to our community and what keeps people coming to our community and coming back because there are some unique things that you can only find here in downtown Elizabethton.
“Not all crowds are big crowds. Just because you have a crowd doesn’t mean they’re always buying and buying from your store. And it’s not just limited to retail.
McCray said she’s watched businesses that don’t typically derive revenue from car cruising try to attract cruise attendees, just as they have for events like Christmas in July and the celebration of the 4th of July at the covered bridge.
“It’s not a lack of our businesses not trying to attract all customers,” McCray said. “I think they did everything they could to compromise. I think they bent over backwards to try to find a compromise and a resolution and they didn’t encounter any.
McCray said since cruises were approved again this year, the chamber has decided to cancel its popular Derby on the Doe event and is considering moving other events.
While the city council said accommodations would be made for other groups looking to hold events downtown at the same time, McCray said the chamber would prefer to move chamber events to another area of the county instead. than to be reserved by the events on Elk Street.
“We have seen small businesses in our community lose almost everything and come back together while continuing to be an integral part of our community. They are the reason this downtown even exists. They are the reason these buildings on Elk Avenue are here and we will support them through all their needs,” McCray said.