This year Wick’s can have a tent during Harvest Homecoming, but in 2012, the tail was wagging the dog.


What a difference a year makes. 

Today in the News and Tribune, Daniel Suddeath reveals that the Board of Works has approved a request by Wick’s to use the adjacent parking lot for a tent during Harvest Homecoming, and that “since Wick’s won’t be using the official logo of the festival, permission from the Harvest Homecoming committee won’t be needed in order to set up the tent.”

Thank heavens for that last part. It would kill the edgy Wick’s vibe to be shrouded in such stodginess. 

Curiously, last year around this time, the polar opposite reaction was forthcoming. The Wick’s request was shelved. I’m reprinting in its entirety the piece published here last September. There was no valid reason for denying the request last year, and so I’m quite happy it has been granted this year. The next logical step? Active, ongoing city participation in reforming Harvest Homecoming, with or without the fest’s cooperation. because it fits the emerging, revitalizing downtown street grid just like my high school basketball uniform fits me 35 years later … which is to say, not at all.

Harvest Homecoming: When the tail wags the dog, we pause.

Tuesday: Harvest Homecoming: Not what downtown is about.
Monday: Harvest Homecoming: Do the evolution, don’t fear the competition.

Wick’s Pizza on State Street is a popular year-round cornerstone of the independent business scene downtown, as well as a textbook example of the business model currently proving successful in revitalizing New Albany’s previously moribund downtown. Several weeks ago, Wick’s approached the New Albanian Brewing Company with the idea of staging an outdoor beer garden during Harvest Homecoming.

Because the proposed venue is the municipal parking lot adjacent to Wick’s, requiring approval from the Board of Public Works, restaurant management was careful to vet the idea with city hall in advance, and an encouraging response was given. Consequently, planning for the event began in earnest.

The plan called for music, food and beer. NABC’s role would be that of designated local craft vendor amid the customary mass-market beer, and as such, the brewery would share a small measure of the event’s identity with Wick’s, including the debut of our Hoosier Daddy seasonal beer release.

I participated in two lengthy discussions with Wick’s management about procedures and legalities expected by the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, because from the standpoint of the excise police, any time is a bad one to ignore alcoholic beverage laws – and Harvest Homecoming is an even worse time to do so.

All necessary insurance and security for the event was being procured. We decided that a portion of the event’s proceeds would be donated to Open Door Youth Services, the recently renamed Floyd County Youth Service Bureau. In my estimation, the plan looked solid. Apart from the weather, all the angles were being locked down.

Jarringly, the Wick’s beer garden proposal was tabled by the Board of Public Works upon its first hearing after Police Chief Sherri Knight voiced concerns about security and scheduling (i.e., the number of nights the beer garden would be in operation, and how long it would run into the evening).

Wick’s Pizza immediately began addressing these concerns, and yet approval still was not forthcoming.

In the absence of coherent explanations from city hall and the board of works, it fell to Chief Knight to explain the denial in an e-mail to Wick’s management. In my opinion, this explanation is unconvincing, amounting to this (paraphrased, and not her exact words):

We cannot allow your proposal to disrupt normal Harvest Homecoming procedures downtown, given that normal Harvest Homecoming procedures already disrupt everything else downtown.

I remain baffled. From whence stems this reluctance on the part of the powers that be to grant Wick’s Pizza’s reasonable request to lawfully expand its business during Harvest Homecoming?

Granted, the Wick’s request is muddied owing to the city’s ownership of the parking lot, one that our officials value so very highly that it’s a persistent, ill-maintained eyesore (see it here).

In this day and age, liability always is a concern, but it is hard for me to believe that city hall’s early positive signals came to Wick’s without legal consultations occurring beforehand.

To be sure, prohibitionist sentiment might be a factor in this muddled response, although I hasten to point out that despite my personally favoring the thoughtful daily application of adult beverages, plenty of folks on the planet actually manage to enjoy pizza, rock ‘n’ roll and even (shudder) elephant ears without drinking, or while drinking lightly.

If there are neo-prohibitionists in government, the Wick’s denial becomes even more curious, as the most common reaction among city officials toward drinking is that there should be a wide variety of options for doing so responsibly; if not, how do we explain the reality of the aforementioned city-sanctioned, three-way riverfront development permits, which constitute a prime tool in the arsenal of any downtown economic development agent, even if Carrie Nation disapproves from beyond the grave?

In short, the city’s elected officials boarded this by-the-drink train quite some time ago, and have supported what amounts to a providential mechanism to attract investment in downtown – moreover, one that has jump-started revitalization all by itself. In 2006, at almost no expense to the city, three-way permits were made easier and less expensive to obtain, and entirely as predicted then, the investment quickly followed. Now, inarguably, downtown New Albany is on the regional map solely because of businesses just like Wick’s Pizza.

Given this reality, isn’t it completely understandable that vanguard businesses just like Wick’s would seek to schedule special promotions and events during Harvest Homecoming?

After all, some are far better placed than others to straddle the otherwise unfavorable target demographic line; if Harvest Homecoming’s annual china shop bull is disastrous for a boutique on Pearl, at least there’s a chance that a pizza place on State can find a way to participate by promoting a crowd-pleasing shindig.

How is this unreasonable?

If it is not reasonable, why does the city first approve criteria for enabling a business like Wick’s to prosper, and then quibble over a perfectly legitimate (and legal) request to enhance its activities during Harvest Homecoming, at the same time as other businesses are doing precisely the same?

There can be only one logical answer. Harvest Homecoming’s organizers evidently do not care for these newfound, multiple and diverse points of market competition for the dollars of drinking festival attendees, because multiple points of consumer happiness threaten Harvest Homecoming’s traditionally mass-market riverfront music tent hegemony … and the lifeblood profit it garners there. To be succinct, the more year-round options exist downtown, the less attractive Harvest Homecoming’s glacial resistance to reinvent seems.

As I’ve been writing this essay, the ironies have proliferated. The Exchange pub and eatery, soon to open on Main Street a mere stone’s throw from Wick’s Pizza, now will run its own outdoor beer garden during Harvest Homecoming. Because the event will be staged on private property, the Board of Public Works does not have jurisdiction over it, other than to warn about adherence to New Albany’s noise ordinance, which was last enforced at some point during the peak of grunge.

It’s good to know that. Maybe the police officers currently engaged in speed traps on Spring Street will start ticketing boom cars, too.

Yes, of course it is within the city’s powers to refuse the event request from Wick’s, and for reasons of liability alone, even if the city’s initial feedback was supportive of the beer garden idea. I must conclude that if the mayor’s own appointees in the police department and the works board rule against such a request, there wasn’t much support at the top in the first place.

Ah, but I’m far from unbiased, right?

After all, NABC is losing a chance to make a few bucks by selling locally brewed craft beer over on Main Street — the “other” side of the Harvest Homecoming epicenter.

Except that we’ll still have our beer inside at Wick’s, just like always, and now there’ll probably be some on tap at Exchange’s temporary beer garden, too, seeing as these are business relationships we nurture year-round, and not only at Harvest Homecoming time. They see value in us, and we see value in them. That’s called reciprocity.

Indeed, I regret losing the chance to raise significant money for Open Door, although we’ll still do our best for them at Fringe Fest.

As for the “traditional” Harvest Homecoming tent set-up down by the riverside, it should suffice to observe that regional happenings ranging from Madison’s RiverRoots to Lanesville’s Heritage Weekend now grasp the utility and plain good business sense of offering locally brewed craft beer to consumers in the present day and age.

Others? They have not.

It is my belief that this story illustrates an ever-widening disconnect between the understandable self-identity (not to mention preservation instinct) of the part-time Harvest Homecoming, and the re-emergence of a full-time downtown business district with objectives, needs and identities of its own.

Why is Harvest Homecoming still allowed to throw its weight around in this manner for a mere four days a year, when the best strategy of potential benefit for all the city’s residents is to nurture and build a downtown capable of throwing its weight around, and accruing dividends, every single day of the year?