For the first two years, Jeff Fultz couldn't buy enough bratwursts and German sausages to please the thousands of people who came to Caroline Street in downtown Fredericksburg for Oktoberfest.
He left the confines of his Wally's Homemade Ice Cream Shoppe at 821 Caroline St. and set up a grill in front of his business to take advantage of all of the people downtown.
But last year, he didn't do so well.
Fultz was one of about 90 people and downtown business owners who signed a petition that called for changes to Oktoberfest, including possibly moving it to the Riverfront Park on Sophia Street a block behind the event sponsor Capital Ale House. Some business owners said they felt pressure to sign the petition, and one said Jerry Ulman came to his store numerous times to get a signature. Ulman, who owns Ulman's Jewelry, was one of the chief backers of the petition and presented it to City Council in April.
However, Fultz said he signed the petition with a caveat: “Don’t kill it. Fix it."
Last year, the city blocked off the 800 and 900 blocks of Caroline Street and the 100 and 200 blocks of George Street from vehicle traffic and limited the exits and entrances for the first time. The limited access caused problems for other merchants, some who reported it as one of their worst sales days. Fredericksburg City Manager Beverly Cameron last week sent almost 200 downtown business owners a survey to get more feedback about the event.
"The year before, it was fantastic," Fultz said. "Last year, my business was down in here 80 percent. As long as [visitors] can get in and out, it will work."
Fultz said he wants Oktoberfest on Caroline Street, but the city needs to make it easier for people to leave the barricades. Capital Ale House sponsors and pays for the entire event, spending thousands of dollars on extra employees, tents and other services. The event will not be held on Sophia Street because of ABC laws and Capital Ale House said it wouldn't sponsor the event anymore if it were moved off of Caroline Street.
David Minckler, owner of Raven Hi Fi at 214 William St., said he has been involved in running and managing multiple retail businesses over the past 30 years, and he doesn't understand why any merchant downtown would frown upon an event that brings almost 10,000 people near their businesses. He said he appreciates that Capital Ale House foots the bill for the event.
"Sure, some logistics might be finessed, and some arguments on both sides could have been better framed, but the bottom line is this: businesses on Caroline Street have five months to prepare for an event that will bring thousands to their doorsteps and any reaction other than, 'How can I make the most of this?' seems unimaginative at the very least," Minckler said. "Many of our local businesses, and the city itself, benefit from this injection of cash—hotels, restaurants, cab companies and yes, retail establishments on and off Caroline Street.
"This is the gift that keeps giving, as many who come to Oktoberfest have never been to Fredericksburg before and if they feel welcomed, will return," Minckler said. "Perhaps in the future, we can all come together and the City of Fredericksburg can put on an event that is this successful, generates this much revenue and visitor goodwill in our own Riverfront Park. Right now, Caroline Street is the answer. "
Jake Crocker, of the FWS Group that owns F.W. Sullivans, did not sign the petition because the owners were in favor of the event.
"In fact, attending Oktoberfest in 2010 was one of the contributing factors to our organization committing to investing in Fredericksburg," he said. "Large-scale annual festivals in a community's core have proven again and again to be both an immediate and long-term economic catalyst for cities across the world. Simply put, having thousands of people outside your front door with money in their wallets is never bad for business whether they choose to spend with you that day or come back another."
Mike Skinner, owner of the vintage boutique Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, used to be at 1004 Caroline St. but he is expanding at a location a block over on Princess Anne Street where Apple Music used to be. The grand opening is June 23. He said Oktoberfest may not be a great sales day for him, but he still sees the opportunity for his business because it draws so many people to downtown.
"It brings people down here who normally don’t shop here," Skinner said. "It’s a day to market for all businesses if they choose to market that day"
Justin Cunningham, who owns Fizzlebottom's Cafe at 920 Caroline St., did not sign the petition. He said he's a new business owner downtown and wanted to avoid the controversy. He said he understands both sides of the argument but he went last year to enjoy the event and found it hard to get in and out of the barricades.
“Whether they do it here [on Caroline Street] or not, I will probably still profit from it because of all the people downtown," he said.
Megan Parry, owner of Beaucoup Vintage at 208 William St. did not sign the petition.
"Honestly, I don't have an issue with it," she said. "The event hasn't affected my sales or foot traffic significantly one way or the other."
Alicia Austin Morgan, owner of Madeline Ruth at 610 Caroline St., said her sales are impacted because the event doesn't reach her block, but visitors use it for parking.
"I am absolutely in favor of Oktoberfest if you include the 600 block," she said. "It’s not great if you are not including all of downtown."
Terry Thomann, who owns the Civil War Life museum and gift store, said he didn't sign the petition because he will be closing shop this November because of poor sales and visitorship. He said he is in favor of Oktoberfest on Caroline Street. He said the first year of the event, he did very well and stayed open until 11 p.m.
"I just think they went too far last year and restricted access to the sidewalks too much," he said. "Everyone was in the street and nobody was on the sidewalk."
Ashley DeLeon, the baker at Colonial Cupcakes 611 Caroline St., loves the event. She said there is an increase in business during Oktoberfest, and she wants to work with Capital Ale House to possibly make beer kegs out of cupcakes.
"It would be super cool," she said. "I could have a red velvet, vanilla and chocolate keg. There is a definite increase of people who walk through the door during that event as opposed to a regular Saturday."