Inn Street blues

JIM VAIKNORAS/Staff photo A McDonald's kiosk on Inn Street in Newburyport gives out free samples during Yankee Homecoming.

NEWBURYPORT — Just how much Yankee Homecoming is too much Yankee Homecoming is the question many Inn Street business are asking themselves this week, and it seems that a pair of McDonald's kiosks are the answer.

"My concern is the so-called corporatization of Yankee Homecoming," Sweethaven Gallery and Studio owner Greg Nikas said. "I understand that Yankee Homecoming needs to make money in order to put on these events, particularly the fireworks. But my feeling when I saw the McDonald's stand was of one of total disbelief and disgust. McDonald's does not belong on Inn Street in any way, shape or form."

A Newburyport resident since 1991, Nikas has been in his Inn Street photo studio location for the past seven years and while he said he appreciates what Yankee Homecoming brings to the city each summer, this year's crop of promotional kiosks — including the fast food giant's booth and two home improvement companies aggressively soliciting pedestrians — do not fit in with Yankee Homecoming's original intent.

"People feel they are being assaulted out here," Nikas said. "It is like a gauntlet being run. They can't walk by without these people jumping in their face and sticking a brochure in front of them. That's not in the spirit of Yankee Homecoming. And then with McDonald's with their big, monstrous booth that is looming over Inn Street. People are really annoyed by this."

According to the president of the Yankee Homecoming board of directors Jason Lacroix, the McDonald's kiosk — which is offering free apple slices, iced coffee, and gogurt samples — and the home improvement businesses' kiosks are only operating on a promotional basis and not selling a product directly.

"They are no different than when you go to mall," LaCroix said. "There are those kind of kiosks in the mall."

Inn Street, however, is not the mall, said Nikas.

"This is historic, beautiful Inn Street," Nikas said. "This is one of the jewels of Newburyport and here you have got these three entities just besmirching Inn Street. Sacrifice a few hundred bucks for those spots. Just get them out of here and bring back what this really was meant to be, a celebration of beautiful New England with arts and crafts and local businesses."

LaCroix said that while he understands and even sympathizes with Nikas' concerns, the difficult reality of paying for activities and entertainment that draws roughly 25,000 to the downtown area each year does come into play.

"That is definitely a valid argument," LaCroix said. "However we have to pay for the festivals, the parade and fireworks. It is just a dollars and cents issue. As it is, this year we are deeply disheartened that people going to Family Day at Maudslay State Park are going to have to pay for their own parking. We normally pay a fee for parking for the whole day, but the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) raised it 150 percent. We can't afford to pay for the lot the whole day."

The placement of food kiosk businesses has also caused a bit of Inn Street controversy, according to Simply Sweet owner Wendy Smith, who has spent the week watching cakes, cookies and other edibles being dipped in chocolate at a vendor booth less than 15 feet away from her candy shop entrance.

"I don't know why they felt the need to put the only chocolate-based product in front of the only chocolate shop in town," Smith said. "Does that make any sense?"

A small business owner herself, Smith said she supports a business' right to make a profit but the placement of Just Dip It Chocolate or Caramel across Inn Street from both her's and her neighbor Eat Cake! does not help any of the three.

"This has nothing to do with the vendor, I know she is here to make a buck, I don't begrudge her that whatsoever," Smith said. "But Yankee Homecoming should be embarrassed and they owe (Eat Cake! owner Hilary Larson) and myself an apology for putting somebody who dips cakes in chocolate in front of a chocolate and a cake shop."

Baking gourmet cakes in Newburyport for the past 13 years and on Inn Street for the past three, Larson said she understands the challenges that Yankee Homecoming faces each year. But she also feels that the addition of a corporate kiosk has crossed a line.

"McDonald's is the nail in this year's coffin," Larson said. "If nothing else that is the catalyst that will necessitate the change that is going to come. We have got three window providers here. So, if I wanted to buy windows, I would be in good shape. They had a pool place in our prime area last year, selling pools. People aren't here to purchase pools, they are here to have a good time. What is this? Are we doing a trade show, or are we having a festival of great vendors and things like that?"

Lacroix stressed communication and said that Yankee homecoming is willing to work with Newburyport businesses.

"We are always working with those owners downtown here so they can make money and the store owners don't get upset, it happens every year," Lacroix said. "We are providing as much fun as we can for free and when you are providing something for free you have to get money somewhere."

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