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THE FOLLOWING LETTER APPEARS IN THE 8/19/2021 EDITION OF THE GAZETTE
To the editor:
All of us in Croton have benefited from the efforts of Ms. Senecal and the late Mr. Habib. Their success in establishing a fall street fair was one of their achievements and Ms. Senecal deserves to have her input and concerns taken seriously by our village government.
Ms. Senecal and the business community worked to raise funds to cover the cost of the Croton Business Council’s proposed Oktoberfest 2021 (The Gazette, August 5/11). In the current business climate, that shows how critical this event is to our local merchants. That said, I do think that the decision by the Croton Board of Trustees to scale back the event this year was a sound one.
We remain in an emotional climate, with conflicting guidance as to what “the science” says. Is a large social gathering wise in light of the current pandemic? No if you are with your motorcycle buddies in Sturgis, Yes if you are with your political buddies on Martha’s Vineyard, and “bear-ly” acceptable if you are in Provincetown.
Eight weeks from now, we may have become more rational, but that is not likely. And let us not forget that the boy was ultimately correct about the wolf: within the next eight weeks, a new viral mutation might necessitate drastic measures. Even if there is no change from the current COVID-19 situation, government restrictions may be reimposed.
Holding an event in Vassallo Park makes sense in light of these facts. It is easier to control capacity and enforce restrictions such as distancing, masking, and verifying vaccination status.
Calling it a Fall Festival also makes sense for several reasons. The first Oktoberfest was a perfectly fine street fair, but it was not an Oktoberfest in the traditional sense and some visitors were a bit annoyed by that. There is a segment of the population which are Oktoberfest fans who travel to these events, and so there is a wider geographic area (and commensurately larger attendance) for an Oktoberfest than a Fall Festival.
It is not the worst idea to reduce population density at a public event right now.
But there is a problem with the plan, as correctly identified by Ms. Senecal. The village won’t disclose the attendance capacity for the event. It is true that we don’t know what the world will be like on October 2, but that is no reason to ignore a legitimate question. The police and public works folks are no doubt planning for the event, and they have some idea as to what capacity restrictions will be in place. Presumably capacity concerns due to COVID-19 were the reason the Board of Trustees rejected the proposal for an Oktoberfest in the first place.
Croton politicians always look out for Number One, and that is no different this year. Politicians will set up their table for $50, but Croton business owners will pay $75 at minimum, or $125 minimum if they are food establishments.
I know this is difficult for our Board of Trustees to grasp, but on exceedingly rare occasions it is the interests of their constituents which should come first. As Ms. Senecal points out, food establishments have come under cost pressures unseen in decades. Having our merchants pay to subsidize the political booth next to them is a bit much in light of what Croton businesses have endured this past year and a half.
Having never run a business, many of our trustees may not realize that businesses cannot simply set up a booth in Vassallo. There are issues of staffing, the loss of revenue if they shut down their retail location for the day, compliance with the county Sanitary Code regarding transportation of food and maintaining required hot/cold temperatures, etc. In addition, establishments holding a liquor license are normally limited to 4 temporary permits per year and each of those costs at least $36. It is a lot more complicated than a politician setting up a tent in the park and shaking hands.
Put bluntly: for Croton businesses, an off-site location such as Vassallo Park requires a lot more planning and expense than a sidewalk booth outside the business. When the business community seeks information from the village as to the allowable capacity at Vassallo on October 2, this is a reasonable request and warrants a response from the village.
I am sympathetic to the concerns of the Board of Trustees, and understand why they don’t want to have a large event. The trustees need to use some common sense and consider that Ms. Senecal has a proven track record and knows her business. Most importantly, the Board of Trustees needs to get out and talk with our local business owners to understand the precarious financial position which many of them are in.
Croton is not a big village. When 30 local businesses raise a concern, our village government should take them seriously and work with them on a solution.
--Paul Steinberg, Croton-on-Hudson
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