Fredericksburg City Beat

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Tomzak says merchants lack ideas

Mayor Tom Tomzak delivered a wide-ranging monolog tonight that appeared to be aimed at downtown merchants who criticized his support of Capital Ale House’s Oktoberfest event.

Tomzak started off talking about how budget time was approaching, and how it wasn’t going to be fun. He then mentioned that the City Council wrote a vision statement that calls for volunteerism, and how Mark Newton’s Homecoming Pickin’ Party, which raised $30,000 for James Monroe High School athletics, was a good example of that.

Then he turned to downtown. He told a story we heard a lot back when the council was considering public support for the Expo Center: A few years ago, when the Virginia Turf Council first had a conference in the city, the Expo Center arranged for attendees to be taken to downtown via a shuttle. They got there after 5 p.m. and left after 45 minutes because there was nothing to do. Tomzak said this was an example of why the city should encourage more special events downtown.

"In the six years I have been mayor, I have not seen the downtown merchants come forward with one positive effort with regards to an event," he said. Tomzak has been mayor for just over five years.

Some Caroline Street antique shop owners criticized the location of Oktoberfest. During his remarks tonight, Tomzak said, "Why don’t they put up capital for an event … instead of just criticizing other events."

He asked why he wasn’t seeing more support from downtown merchants for the riverfront park, then stated that he has "complete confidence" in current Downtown Retail Marketing President Bonnie DeLelys. 

"I just hope Bonnie has endurance," Tomzak said. "Because that’s what it’s gonna take."

Shortly after the mayor’s remarks, council members granted DeLelys’ request that the city extend the two-hour parking limit on downtown streets to four hours for the Christmas shopping season, which they defined as Nov. 16 to Jan. 1.  

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  • scottolsen

    The majority of the downtown merchants are short sighted and living in the 60′s. There hasn’t been an original thought or idea out of them in 40 years. They want people to come shop, but do nothing to promote themselves or their businesses (witness most of them being shuttered & closed by 6pm). Then they complain when an event DOES brings 7500 people to the area. When downtown is more than just blocks and blocks of junk (excuse me…”antique”) shops, merchants are willing to stay open later in order to draw more patrons, then and only then will downtown become a viable destination. Until that time, I suggest DRMA members keep their incessant whining and bellyaching to themselves.

  • Robwrites

    Mayor Tomzak makes valid points about voluntarism and private sector investment, and is spot-on about DRMI Prez Bonnie De Lelys. Bonnie leads a team of DRMI board members now representing the majority of downtown merchants with a clear and progressive voice. Extending the parking hours for the holiday season as our gift to shoppers would have been an unfathomable possibility six months ago. But DRMI has righted itself and is working well with City staff. Our riverfront support is there and will become more pronounced. Life is good downtown.

  • MAVRICKinc

    Scott just hit the nail on the head. My only question is whether anyone was listening or must Fredericksburg cling to the past for want of a future that’s rotting around their ears because of stubborn pride.

    I can recall a war being fought a long time ago, that left more blood on the ground than anyone could possibly imagine. While we celebrate and reenact this event in our history, from year to year, why is it that we continue to insert this stubborn pride, into all walks of life and make the same kind of business decisions that served only divide a nation or a town called Frederickburg, in the year 2009. There are trees in the forest. Why can’t we bring ourselves to view the forest and get close enough to hug a tree; any tree you like?

  • WineLover

    While I think overall Oktoberfest was a success for downtown it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the process and do better next year. Many businesses also experienced over served people coming into their businesses and causing problems. it doesn’t mean we don’t want events, just a little better managed.

    The mayor is making a mistake in being so combative. How about challenging the merchants versus criticizing? I agree we need new ideas and more events. The city of Culpeper sponsors the Taste of Culpeper event, holds it downtown and helps to promote it. Maybe the city of Fredericksburg could emulate that model and have a stronger hand in creating events with all the businesses. I don’t think what is lacking is imagination, but capital.

  • davisrm

    About time…I agree with every comment before mine. That place is stuck in a time warp and not in a good way. Please revive it.

  • livngnva

    We moved to Fredericksburg 7 years ago and thought old town Fredericksburg would be a great place to spend time. I would love to go shopping after work one evening but everything closes early. The one store geared for kids smells like a cat box and I will not step foot it in. If the merchants want to have more business then maybe they should look at other areas and what they do to attract people to the historic areas. Be consumer friendly.

  • kam43

    Do you or anyone go to the christmas open house downtown? love it….always have lunch there is sales and food and wine tasting at the wine shops and made in virginia store. I always do my stocking suffers downtown as well. love the fudge factory!
    I recently just had breakfast downtown at the university cafe – great food! lots of good places to eat downtown. sometimes we opt for that vice going across the river to central park or route 3!

  • winwood

    We’re very fortunate to have the mayor and council leading the city. The decision to lure in Capitol Ale House and Wegman’s with tax incentives now appears to be a winner. Next, how about getting Trader Joe’s into the old Fredericksburg hardware store…there’s plenty of parking and lots of students who would shop there continuously. Last…Merchant’s how about staying open late (9 pm) on Wednesday’s, kind of like they do in Europe.

  • liciastac

    Winelover is right, why be so combative? Who is well served by false assumptions that were long ago debunked. Paints with a broad brush & ignores recent positve changes. No one has said they don’t want events so enough already. This is such a tempest in a teapot. Typical. Did the mayor shout this at little old ladies again?

  • cfray

    The Retail Merchants Association is primarily made up of folks who don’t even live in the city limits and are only interested in making sure they have a place to park right in front of their shop. That’s smart. They have no business acumen and are holding the city back just like HFFI. If they don’t like special events going on downtown, they need to go some place else.

  • LiciaStac

    The mayor is not helping anything. If people dislike downtown so much why are vacancy rates lower than the mall or Cent Park? If the merchants are stuck in the 1960s so are the posters. You igore great changes made in last 5 years. Don’t undertstand the vitriol

  • LiciaStac

    How does this jive with cfray? I think there’s a lot more to dtown than DRMI. Winelover’s point is correct. Don’t know what to think of DRMI but know of conduct/bizarre goings on that seems anything but helpful. Membership down, they may not reflect modern downtown..we need a resid assoc

  • cfray

    How does this jive with LiciaStac? The whole point of the blog that started this discussion focused on DRMI not on improvements going on downtown. The majority of the shops that support DRMI close at 5 p.m. Not good for improving the atmosphere downtown.

  • LiciaStac

    I agree that DRMI is not the best reflection of the “modern” dtown we’d all like to see. Thats what I tried to convey. It’s no ones fault necc. As a working resident, I’d like to see a resident assoc but know that may bring new problems. It’s not just merchants down here after all.

  • LiciaStac

    As an RN at MW, let’s just say most people around the water cooler aren’t talking about merchants but rather the mayor. Not in a favorable way. He’s bullied old ladies in public, say they have “no ideas.” Is his vision to buy up property, not use it, spend $$ during a recession the city doesn’t have and raise our taxes? Don’t understand

  • LiciaStac

    His monologue is combative just as winelover said. Meant to distract from his bad public behavior, very Clinton-esque. Changes will be made downtown but to make things improve all parties must adjust. Sure, some merchants need to adapt AND the mayor needs to step aside. It’s just too polarized otherwise.

  • mydar

    Trite but true is that saying. In the last five years there has been some substantial and positive changes downtown. Credit should go to the Mayor and City council; and local entrepreneurs and activists. Downtown’s most valuable asset is its uniqueness. If one wants a bland, homogeneous Mall with national franchises there are plenty of choices. But there is only one Goolricks; Riverby Books; J. Bryants; Beck’s Antiques, etc. These business are authentically and substantially part of our community. A rare thing in these days of corporate chrome & faux sincerity. That is not to say that time should stand still or progress stunted. Rather, we should seek out those establishments and activities that reflect the character and essence of this very unique and rare place we call our town. Oktoberfest was a good example. The process that delivered it was a train wreck — and the Mayor rightly deserves some of the blame for that — but the ultimate affect of the event was 100% positive. All relevant and concerned parties want the same thing: success and prosperity for Fredericksburg. Let’s work together to make it happen; or most assuredly we will feel the failure.

  • LiciaStac

    Well said Einstien. Agree 100%. The mayor’s combative stance does not further this goal which is why he must step aside. Hopefully by this time next year we’ll enjoy Oktoberfest by the river, this calms down and seems like a bad dream. More quality events that only have a positive impact on residents/businesses are needed and that’s what we all desire.

  • tpifos

    The mayor is divisive and condescending – THAT is the
    issue, not Oktoberfest. This Council has accomplished
    nada since he was re-elected.

  • 1958

    So they might park there tickect makin suv for 6 weeks or so .Is it that can make more money on taxing people who shop?
    Keep your suv keep your town keep first night.
    If you want a nice family good time go to orange there first night is about familys.

  • tpifos

    and you can’t even keep out the weeds, the trash & the
    streets and sidewalks maintained properly? There was a
    letter in the paper about that from a visitor who didn’t
    sound like she was coming back. The Mayor and Council
    whine about the budget but then have no problem
    spending millions more? Throw the bums out.

  • dirtylogic

    For all the business owners who don’t think that special events like Octoberfest attract their kind of customers, here is a suggestion. Why not profit from the extra clientele that will be there? Wally’s Ice Cream is a great example of this idea. While the food lines inside the fence were stretching around the block, he was busy selling his own bratwurst to hungry visitors on the street. Sure, it takes some extra initiative and creativity, but those are essential qualities for a successful small business owner.

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