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Festival stays put despite complaints

The Pony Wagon Days festival will remain in downtown St. Paris this year, despite complaints from business owners who said closing the downtown street has been bad for business.

Village council members voted unanimously Monday to close a portion of South Springfield Street during the festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 5, 6 and 7 this year, Mayor Brenda Cook said.

However, festival organizers have agreed to keep the street open until 5 p.m. the day before the festival, Cook said. In recent years, the street has been closed as early as noon to begin setting up for the event.

Business owners in the village were split over whether to close the block of South Springfield Street and a small portion of Plum Street for the festival, a decades-old event that celebrates the village’s history as a carriage manufacturer.

The festival is beneficial for the village, said Fred Evans, owner of Tri-County Insurance Services. But he and several other business owners believe it would be better to host the event in a different location and keep the street open.

As many as 15 business owners signed a petition to keep the street open for the festival, citing concerns ranging from decreasing revenue to poor access to area stores for elderly and disabled residents. Some business owners with shops around that section of the street have reported business declining between 17 and 60 percent during the three days the street was closed, Evans said.

“It’s not easy to have a small business and there’s quite a few that live from week to week,” Evans said. “That’s who I try to look out for.”

At the same time, he said there’s little to do other than move forward now that the decision has been made.

“They’re the ones that make the decision so we’ll live with it,” he said.

Festival organizers have previously said other businesses in the village have been supportive of hosting the event downtown, and see it as an opportunity to show off their products for new customers.

Evans said he hopes the debate will receive some consideration from festival organizers next year.

“Maybe it’ll give them something to think about in the future,” Evans said.

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