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Chamber president addresses weekend vendor controversy

COVINGTON, Ga. - Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce President Ralph Staffins, III, met with downtown merchants Monday afternoon to address the controversy surrounding some vendors being shut down at weekend event on the Covington Square. 

Reportedly, the vendors were selling soap and jewelry, items which competed with merchandise being sold by brick and mortar stores on the Square, in violation of the event’s permit. 

In a statement Wednesday, Staffins sought to clarify what happened. 

“There are some things that need to be clarified after the Witches Night Out event on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. The Main Street Department, managed by the Chamber, approved a permit for an event on the square and a road race in which the race was approved by the City Council.

“The issue arose when it was brought to our attention that the permit was not being followed. Once aware, staff went to the square with the permit to speak to the event organizer. The event organizer was told that the vendors had to stop selling items that competed with the square businesses. They were not told to shut the event down. Non-competing vendors at events are a stipulation of the permit and the organizer acknowledged that by initialling said stipulation and signing the permit. We are still currently working with the event organizer to reach an amicable resolution.

“What happened at this event was very unfortunate for all of those involved. This issue was certainly not the fault of any of the vendors that were participating. We have a great community that has seen tremendous change and growth throughout, especially in Downtown Covington. Much of which none of us have seen before. I believe that it is because of this fast pace change that the issue occurred. There are many new stores that have opened over the last couple of years that would conflict with some of the returning vendors to this event. 

“To clarify, The Soap Box was not the business that brought the issue of competing event vendors to our attention.

“The truth is no one should be angry with any business on the square. The merchants did what Main Street and the Chamber asked and that was to inform us when events or filming are outside of permit. The Chamber and Main Street made the decision to enforce the permit, no business owner asked for the event to be shut down, and the Chamber asked for competing items to not be sold.

“The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and its departments are dedicated to growing the economy of Covington. This includes businesses from small to large and everything in between. Events and vendors like these are important as they draw people to the festival and allow small businesses without a storefront to showcase their merchandise. The question has become, with the fast-paced growth and new challenges that the main street business district faces, is it time to rethink allowing events like this on the square.

“Small businesses are the fabric that binds our community together. While we may have lost sight of that this past weekend with these vendors, we have been reminded that every business owner’s voice is important no matter how big or how small your business is. The Chamber will continue to support and encourage entrepreneurship and small businesses in our community while continuing to improve the permit process.”

Staffins told The Covington News after the Monday’s meeting that the Chamber will be reviewing its permit policy.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing the best thing for Covington and downtown - the vendors, the merchants, everybody,” he said. “ We’re going to look at what the permit actually needs to have in it to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”