“Expectations going in were high,” said Justin Quinton, co-owner of Cantina Los Tres Hombres.
The merchants provided drink specials and live entertainment on Thursday nights in an attempt to launch their own special event and piggyback on the proximity of the farmers’ market.
But by the time the weekly event came to a close this past Thursday, a measure of dissatisfaction had dusted the initial promise of success.
“Financially, it was not very good for us,” said Jonathan Chapin, co-owner of The Alley.
The event ran into trouble before it even started when owners of the Blind Onion Pizza & Pub and O’skis Pub & Grille pulled out.
“I’m disappointed as a fellow merchant that that’s how we operated,” Quinton said.
The merchants working together, which also included Paddy & Irene’s Irish Pub, Victorian Saloon and Great Basin Brewing Co., spent at least $2,500 on permits and management costs, according Jeremy Abts, co-owner of The Alley.
But Thursday sales for the participating merchants were down from last year, when the farmers’ market was held just outside their doors.
In fact, Quinton said his restaurant had seen a 70-percent decline in revenue year-over-year.
“We did our best to get people down here,” he added.
One of the explanations for the poor showing lies in the very fact that city officials, hoping to revamp the farmers’ market, moved it away from the merchants in Victorian Square.
“The separation is the biggest key,” Chapin said.
In recent years, the farmers’ market developed a reputation for trouble, as fights and rowdy behavior often accompanied the event.
Returning the farmers’ market to its “original intent” as a family-friendly event was a priority this year, said Sparks Councilman Ron Schmitt.
“We have conflicting interests with (Thursday Nights on the Square),” said Schmitt, who chairs the city’s Tourism and Marketing Committee.
But merchants along Victorian Square said they were being targeted unfairly for merely serving booze.
“We’re not the devil down here,” Quinton said, adding that the merchants tried to make Thursday Nights on the Square as family-friendly as possible.
There was also a tremendous amount of confusion about how the events would operate, merchants said.
For example, Chapin said merchants were told there would be no live entertainment at the farmers’ market, but there indeed was, and many believe this kept business away.
Merchants said they were not ready to throw in the towel, and doing the event again next year was very likely — with a few changes, of course.
“I just think there’s a lot of lessons to learn from this summer,” Abts said.
Managing and self-producing the entire event, integrating the farmers’ market back into Victorian Square and working more closely with city officials were ways to improve upon the inaugural event, merchants said.
Schmitt said city officials were committed to working with the Victorian Square merchants, and added that it was necessary evaluate how well the two events performed at year’s end.
“Which way we go next year, I can’t say,” Schmitt said.