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Fredericksburg: The boo birds do their thing on the town's special events
FOR EONS--even the protozoa in the primordial slime talked of this--Fredericksburg bore the moniker Dead Fred. We always assumed it was a complaint. But the happy accumulation of downtown events and amenities during the last few years has brought a shocking discovery: Some city residents think Dead Fred is an ideal--one to defend to the last breath of parochial petulance.
Downtown's Okoberfest--the third one, held last year on a raw day, drew 9,000 people--fortunately seems to have survived this odd reflex against mass public happiness. After some downtown merchants collected 90 signatures on a petition to scuttle or move the festival, city officials themselves polled business owners, asked for suggestions, and, in deciding to stick with the present location, announced two ameliorations.
First, during this year's Oktoberfest, pedestrians can freely cross George Street at its intersection with Caroline, the virtual closing of two blocks of which left some stores last year feeling marooned. Second, Oktoberfest vendors will be urged to park a greater distance from the street party, leaving spaces for shoppers. And a bonus: Oktoberfest's sponsor, Capital Ale House, plans a same-day kiddie event that will steer families toward the aggrieved shopkeepers.
In a widely circulated email, John Mitchell, venerable owner of the Made in Virginia Store on Caroline Street, noted, "It is access to the sidewalks that is the conflict"--not the event itself. The city's changes have probably done much to calm merchants such as Mr. Mitchell, even if others are implacable.
Meanwhile, alas, the Turkey Trot 5K road race, after 19 Thanksgiving mornings downtown, seems destined to move to Central Park--partly because some residents along the route say the throng of runners hems them in. (Imagine a Falmouth light on steroids.) But if these citizens needed to go somewhere, the police, especially if notified in advance, surely could clear a way for them.
All this piddling and moaning about downtown events, coupled with a refusal to meet organizers halfway, is not a feather in Our Town's cap. Will the sourly disposed next demand that we kick the Soap Box Derby off William Street, ban First Night, tell the Marines to take their half-marathon to Quantico, confine the Bluemont Concerts to a gym, shoo the River Raft Race to Motts Run, banish the Religious Freedom Day celebration, and roust those Mr. Greenjeans types off the sidewalk at Hurkamp Park?
Most of the aforementioned events, at worst, inconvenience one set of citizens for part of one day a year. All put a few pesos in the public treasury and, much more important, burnish the image of the very heart of Fredericksburg as a living place. In a recent Chamber of Commerce survey of the region, only one in five respondents rated downtown "good," yet they gave high marks to events such as First Friday and Oktoberfest. Rather than screwing up our faces at these cheery ornaments on mundane town life, we should be welcoming more of them.
To Dead Fred, good riddance. Our anthem should be All Ahead Fred.