By Richard Kerns
Tribune Staff Writer
KEYSER – A downtown businessman is seeking permission to block off Main Street for a fall-festival chili cook-off, but some members of the Keyser City Council are cool to the idea, objecting to city-sanctioned “drunken” parties and preferring that such events be directed instead to the new amphitheater at the South End Park.
Keith “Big Lew” Lewis of Martie's Hot Dog Stand on South Main Street appeared before the City Council this week seeking permission to block off Main Street Saturday, Oct. 9, for a chili cook-off and associated festival, to include what has become the traditional trappings of live music and a pig roast. Such events have been downtown staples the past few years.
“I've had a lot of people asking about it...,” Lewis said. “We just want to bring some business downtown.”
While the city has routinely sanctioned the festivals in recent years, Lewis received a chilly reception this time from the council.
Council member Sonny Alt, who spearheaded the construction of the amphitheater, this year took the “Friday Night Live” concerts that had been held the past two years every Friday in August on a blocked-off Main Street, and moved the event to the new stage, far from downtown. He noted that some downtown businesses like The Royal Restaurant feel a blocked-off Main Street hurts business.
“That's one of the reasons why we built the amphitheater,” he said.
Registering a strong objection to the proposed event was Councilman Bill Roy, a former chief of police, who said the Friday night concerts and other downtown events had developed into adult affairs marked by excessive drinking.
“To have a drunken party, I don't agree with it,” he said sternly.
Lewis objected to that characterization, saying the concerts, cook-offs and festivals – including the spring RampFest
(See MAIN ST. P. 7A)
– did not cause any problems for police. “I don't think it is a drunken party,” he said. “We've never had any trouble.”
Roy's election in the June City Council race did more than seat an opponent to the downtown festivals, it also removed a council member who had long championed the events.
Former Councilman Dave Sowers, who lost his bid for re-election in the June race, had initiated the Friday-night concerts on his own, and gained official city sponsorship of the events last year. He also helped gain council support for the occasional Main Street festival, like the chili cook-off and Ramp festival.
With Sowers gone, and Alt steering events to the amphitheater, the fate of the downtown festivals remains unclear.
Mayor William “Sonny” Rhodes, who was closely allied with Sowers during his two years on the council, said he would work with Alt, Lewis and the city's Recreation Board to determine whether the chili cook-off could be held.
“I'd like to see something happen downtown,” he said.
Also addressing the council at the meeting was Alison Bunting, owner of the Rusty Nail just a few doors down from Martie's. She applauded efforts to bring people downtown, but said when city crews “bagged” parking meters as a prelude to blocking off Main Street, it discouraged people from parking, and reduced customer traffic for her store, The Royal and other businesses.
She asked the council to refrain from bagging the meters until late in the afternoon. City officials said they could do so.
Lewis said he was only trying to bring people downtown and help the businesses that have remained in the city, paying the city's Business & Occupation Tax. “I like to benefit everybody,” he said. “It's not just for myself.”
Also discussed at the meeting, but left undecided, was the fate of the Halloween Party. Traditionally held downtown, it may also be moved to the amphitheater this year.
Main Street events face uncertain future
By Richard Kerns