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The Tentacle


April 4, 2006

Weird First Saturday

Roy Meachum

How bizarre! When the rumors settled and reality bowed in, at the coming of Gallery Walk's nine o'clock bewitching hour, nothing happened!

Despite Commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson's frantic email to all the county's law enforcement agencies, warning of loaded firearms to repulse Health Department inspectors:

"(Cinegraphics owner Eric) Krasner's statements on the radio earlier Saturday and his failure to provide any clarification concerning them suggest that there is a substantial possibility that he (or someone on his behalf) intends to threaten or employ the use of DEADLY FORCE (my emphasis) to keep health department personnel from entering his business premises."

As expected, Lennie was wrong again.

On WFMD's Frederick Forum, host Blaine Young had joked to Mr. Krasner that his older brother, a gun dealer, might turn up. The store owner really did not encourage the possibility, as Mr. Thompson might have understood had he actually listened to the show.

In an earlier email, the commissioners' president used the circuitous "you appeared, "I understood that you represented" and "I also understand," which telegraphed he was acting on hearsay. The part-time official and lawyer should know better.

Commissioner Mike Cady managed to make himself look equally ridiculous.

In the first place, he was almost certainly wrong when he wrote: "Lennie, thank you for listening to Blaine's show this morning." He explained he was busy elsewhere.

On the situation he said: "At first, I was more flexible, but after being verbally accosted by some merchants as I walked down the sidewalk, I have no empathy for their situation."

It appears from here that "accosted" is another way of saying he heard complaints. Since only three merchants have taken a public stand on the issue, the burden couldn't possible be onerous on an elected official. What about the scores of shopkeepers who kept their peace?

When faced with "this fee for giving sealed drinks to athletes and wrapped sandwiches to volunteers," Mr. Cady said, "I never complained, it was simply part of the cost of doing business and protecting the health of all concerned."

Before Mike Cady's halo tightens up too much, he should be reminded that First Saturday is organized and run by the Downtown Frederick Partnership (DFP). It is supported by the City of Frederick, Frederick County, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Council and other organizations. It is hardly a free-lance project by individual stores.

Executive Director Kara Norman supposedly coordinates all the partnership’s activities, down to providing balloons that proclaim Gallery Walk. She puts out printed brochures and announcements. She handles media and all promotions.

It's totally ridiculous to state, as Mr. Cady has, that DFP lacks any role in the Health Department's sudden decision to charge a fee for stores that offer edibles; that comes three years after First Saturday celebrations started.

Moreover, inspectors for compliance are looking for trouble when they walk into Zaruba's and demand to see the kitchen. "This is a jewelry store," they were chided by co-owner Andrew Zaruba. He said he was shocked at the demand.

Together with Mr. Krasner, he has been the only merchant to refuse entry to the health inspectors, on the basis the law does not back the bureaucrats' intrusion.

Joe Cohen rounds out the protesting trio, although his British goods and cigar store already pays fees and offering food products makes inspection mandatory under his license. Apparently, Mr. Cohen fears no danger of an official summons and never did.

Nobody along Market Street, south and north, has a clue about why April's First Saturday Gallery Walk suffered no Health Department "raids."

In the event, several storeowners indicated they planned to close early, foregoing the event's increased sales to avoid the hassle with bureaucrats. Others have cut way back on their hospitality, sticking to wine that comes under the liquor board, a totally different office.

Jeff Holtzinger turned up for Gallery Walk. When informed of what was happening, he expressed surprise but added his reaction. Frederick's new mayor said the downtown confrontation with the health department may have gone too far for any pulling back. With no objective information, he feels a showdown is inevitable.

In the event, the county's law enforcement agencies ignored Lennie Thompson's misinformation; they displayed the cool he obviously lacked.

The only cops I saw were several of Frederick's finest conducting a search for alcoholic beverages. That's not quite true. The below-age boys were caught dead to right, and in plain sight.

Their bottles of illicit beer lined the curb in front of Cinegraphics, where the youths were subject to pat-downs before being allowed to wander up North Market, joining the tourist laden throng.

Of course, their blue jeans were first required to sit down on the sidewalk. They may have even received tickets. Growing bored with what was basically a non-event, we kept going.

Walking up the street, we fielded questions: Had the police escorted health inspectors into Mr. Krasner's store? Had the battle finally been joined over merchants' offering goodies to attract Gallery Walk visitors?

The answer, as indicated, was a resounding "No!" that was greeted with disappointment at every turn.

I'll have more, including a surprise turn, in Sunday's News-Post.



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