Westhampton Beach Businesses Split Over Smorgasburg Food Expo Proposal - 27 East

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Westhampton Beach Businesses Split Over Smorgasburg Food Expo Proposal

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author on May 6, 2016

Members of the Westhampton Beach business community are split on whether they want a scaled-back version of the popular food expo Smorgasburg in the village on Fridays this summer.

At a Westhampton Beach Village Board meeting on Thursday night, May 5, several restaurant owners—including Simon Jorna of Beach Bakery, Erin Finley of Sydney’s “Taylor” Made, and Pizzetteria Brunetti and Brunetti Salon owner Michael Brunetti—all adamantly opposed including the food show in the village repertoire this summer.

At the same three-hour meeting, several locals, as well as some restaurant and business owners, spoke in favor of the expo, which is based in Brooklyn, saying it would bring more foot traffic to the village and help all local businesses in the summer.

But nearly everyone agreed that the event—which is currently proposing to run on Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., from June 24 through the first week of September—is a great option for September and possibly October to extend the busy season and lure customers to the municipality beyond Labor Day.

“We were intrigued by this possibility and are excited to possibly come here,” Rob Blackman, director of operations for Smorgasburg, said at last week’s meeting. “The idea of showing what we do there [in Brooklyn] out here sounds very fun to us, and we are excited about the possibility of taking on the challenge.”

Launched in 2011, Smorgasburg is held every Saturday and Sunday in Brooklyn from April through November, and features 100 vendors while attracting an estimated 10,000 visitors. The idea of a Westhampton Beach version of Smorgasburg was first presented by Buoy One seafood restaurant owner and Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce member Lorraine Girard to village officials at a work session in April. She proposed that 35 vendors could utilize the chamber’s Glovers Lane parking lot to hold a smaller version of the event.

Her pitch has since been scaled back, with Smorgasburg, citing the size of the parking lot, now hoping 20 vendors would travel to the village on Friday mornings and clean up at the end of the night. The chamber would provide public bathrooms, clean-up services and security for the event, and Smorgasburg would pay all advertising fees to bring patrons to the pop-up food expo.

“I have loved every minute of being here, but I believe we need to bring more people through here year-round,” said Karl MacDonald, owner of the Mill Roadhouse in Westhampton Beach, which opened its doors about a year ago. “I think making it a destination will make this a great place.”

Some concerns raised last Thursday night included having enough parking for patrons and vendors of the expo, especially with roughly 22 spaces in the chamber parking lot being eliminated to host the event, and possibly that a summer expo would take business away from local restaurants during the busiest time of the year.

“We all rely on the business that comes in the summertime to make a living to get through the wintertime,” Mr. Brunetti said. “I think, personally, looking at this, will it bring people to town? Probably. Are they going to spend money at Shock, or get their hair cut at my place? Probably not.

“The concept should be to put the money and creativity into helping those who are here all year-round and not take money from the people who are here year-round,” he continued.

At the meeting, Dwayne Kirchner, the owner of both the Margarita Grille and the Patio restaurants on Main Street, said the expo is something that could be good for the village, but that officials would need to put safeguards in place to protect local businesses. He added that it will be nice to have some of the Smorgasburg-approved vendors bring different foods to the village. Smorgasburg is known for having different Asian, Italian, seafood, Mexican, Colombian, barbecue and other ethnic cuisines at the expo in Brooklyn.

“You have to figure it out so it works for both the local merchants and Smorgasburg,” Mr. Kirchner said. “We have spent a lot of money on this village, and we all pay taxes. We want this village to succeed, but don’t just throw this out there.

“I am willing to give it a try,” he continued, “but you need to figure it out to make it work—not us competing with them.”

At the meeting, several Village Board and community members said it would be good if Smorgasburg would work with the village to pick which of its 100 vendors would frequent the Westhampton Beach location. Mr. Blackman stated repeatedly that the company cannot finalize a vendor list until the village authorizes the food expo.

Board members did not make a decision on the application last week. Their next meeting is a work session scheduled for Wednesday, May 18, at 7 p.m., at Village Hall.

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