The Pear Blossom Festival's street fair moved this year to downtown Medford's brand-new Park Blocks, garnering acclaim from large crowds drawn to the venue.
But not everyone is happy with the move. In fact, some downtown merchants are downright unhappy about it.
"I hated it," said Michael Sidon, owner of Four Daughter's Irish Pub on West Main Street. "It was terrible for downtown. The parade ended, and it was a ghost town.
"I think we were off a good 10 percent. During the parade, we got a lot of business, but in the past we'd get business after. I didn't get that this year."
Sidon's comments were echoed in various forms by numerous downtown merchants, virtually all of whom said the move of the April 12-13 street fair from a Main Street location to the Park Blocks was a business killer, even if it shifted the event only a couple of blocks.
"We were off a solid 40 percent from last year," said Nora LaBrocca, owner of Downtown Market Co. on East Main Street. "It was at Alba Park for so long. Then they moved it to Hawthorne Park, and then they finally got it where it should always have been — in downtown — and then it's gone again.
"Nobody asked me how I felt about it, not that they need our permission, but they didn't want any feedback, and they don't understand the repercussions."
However, Diane Raymond, executive director of the Heart of Medford Association, said she had been contacted by only one unhappy business owner and that the feedback about the move was overwhelmingly positive.
"The Park Blocks were designed to accommodate this kind of event," she said.
"It reduced congestion. It was a safer location," Raymond said. "It improved electrical needs for participants, and there was more space for vendors. It also allowed us to have a band both days that didn't interfere with the fair."
The Park Blocks are part of a downtown revitalization project called The Commons, which grew out of Lithia Motors' decision to locate its corporate headquarters on Riverside Avenue at Sixth Street. Eventually, two blocks adjacent to Lithia will be park space for downtown workers and visitors. The first Park Block opened March 29, and work is scheduled to begin soon on the second block. The projects were developed and funded through the Medford Urban Renewal Agency.
Urban renewal efforts are intended to revitalize downtown, but the merchants say that is not what happened on Pear Blossom weekend.
"The Pear Blossom move definitely took away foot traffic," said Kristen Heath, manager of Norris Shoes on East Main. "We actually only did about half of what we've done in previous years. We like having The Commons there, but we'd like to see the festivities extend into the merchant area because there are no active merchants around The Commons."
Edward Paine, manager of Organic Natural Cafe, said, "Saturday was supposed to be our big day, and we were incredibly slow. It was pretty detrimental to our business."
"We were down about 25 percent from where we were last year," said Susan Fichtner, co-owner of My Daughter's Closet, "and it (formerly) was one of the three biggest days of the year for us."
While the change was a downer for those businesses, organizers and attendees of this year's event seemed thrilled.
According to Darcey Mann-Self, Pear Blossom Festival president, an estimated 25,000 people lined the parade route through downtown Medford, and 10,000 people visited the street fair.
"We love the new area, we love having all the vendors down here in one beautiful spot," she said on April 13 as the fair was under way. "Everything is going smoothly; it's been an absolutely wonderful day."
Raymond said last week the Heart of Medford Association recognized the move could be a problem for downtown businesses and offered them a location at the fair at a reduced cost.
"I only had one merchant take advantage of the opportunity, and they said it was fabulous," she said.
"Our job is to bring people to the district so they see what is available and, hopefully, come back and shop."
Not every business suffered that weekend. Havana Republic at the old Bohemian Club on West Main opened at 9 a.m. with breakfast and set up a coffee stand outside on the sidewalk.
"The stand had a line of about 15 people deep most of the day, and our numbers were up from the year before," said Bruce Miller, one of the managers.
Even so, Miller regrets that the fair was moved.
"In every small American town, you have a Main Street, and it's typically the center of town," he said. "You can't say you're promoting businesses in town if you are moving everything away from the center of that."
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.