Thursday, October 08, 2015

ON THE AVENUES: There’s an indie twist to this curmudgeon’s annual Harvest Homecoming column.

ON THE AVENUES: There’s an indie twist to this curmudgeon’s annual Harvest Homecoming column.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

You may have noticed that in 2015, I’ve consciously soft-pedaled blog references to Harvest Homecoming.

In completely unrelated news, there is an amazing concept called “pragmatism.” It has taken me 55 years to be introduced to it, and I thought I’d give it a whirl. Being pragmatic actually has little to do with running for mayor. It’s about reformatting for the future, and getting something important accomplished.

Those detailed annual critiques of Harvest Homecoming, as regularly offered here since 2005, remain far more applicable than not. They’re objective, factual and easily searchable. You are invited to indulge, read and learn.

Apart from impeccable reasoning of the sort I’ve offered in this space previously, I have three primary reasons for taking a break in 2015.

First, there is escalating personal exhaustion.

Numerous metaphorical 800-lb. gorillas roam the mean streets of New Albany, and without occasional exercises in triage, energy conservation and gin, wrestling with them all at once can be quite tiring. It’s better to pick selected battles and topple the behemoths each in turn – or, failing that, drink more gin.

Second, I’m experiencing mounting personal changes, many of them delightful.

My decision to uncouple from NABC has been liberating in several ways. Among them is a boomerang of sorts with regard to my terms of engagement with Harvest Homecoming.

The advent of downtown New Albany’s first wave of indies (i.e. Bistro New Albany, circa 2006), and then later Bank Street Brewhouse (2009), brought me into annual downtown contact with Harvest Homecoming for the first time in decades. BSB’s concurrent Fringe Fest was and is a direct response to the myriad challenges of happy harvesting for local independent businesses.

Dependent on my future job status, perhaps now I’ll be free to revert to that halcyon pre-2006 default condition of avoiding upcloseandpersonal contact with Harvest Homecoming, especially as it is manifested in its enduringly invasive “booth days.”

Frankly, it’s never been my kind of event, and there’s not much of substance in it for folks like me. So be it, and it takes all sorts to fill a planet.

As such, I envision a future family custom of departing for vacation on the Monday following the parade, because parade day has taken on a renewed significance for me, which brings us to Reason Number Three.

There’s a new tradition called Biers on Parade.


This year the New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association “popped up” a beer garden at the Farmers Market, intended to coincide with the parade. The weather didn’t cooperate, but we got it done with the active help of the New Albany Farmers Market and Harvest Homecoming. Even the captive Board of Public Works and Safety gave prompt and courteous approval.

See, various entities actually can row in the same direction. Kudos to them all.

We’re eager to build on this year’s Biers on Parade experiment as the capstone to an entirely different and yet complementary concept for the week preceding Harvest Homecoming’s downtown takeover.

This is the cause of heightened economic localism, and a week-long spotlight placed directly on local independent businesses.

Let it be known that enhanced localism should be the basis for the city of New Albany’s overall economic development strategy, and if I’m elected mayor, it will be. The American Independent Business Alliance offers one reason why.

“Multiple studies show locally-owned independent restaurants return twice as much per dollar of revenue to our local economy than chain restaurants. And independent retailers return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales than chain competitors.”

As we continue working toward this goal, pragmatic adjustments to the fall calendar are in order. Harvest Homecoming’s parade always takes place on the first Saturday in October. Henceforth, we’re hoping that the last Sunday in September provides a handy annual localism kickoff with Indie Fest, followed by New Albany Restaurant & Bar Week, concluding with Biers on Parade.

Taken together, it’s a ready-made Indie Week to bookend Harvest Homecoming. It extends festive times over two full weeks, not just one. It provides the opportunity to trumpet the merits of “we’re here all year” alongside those of “come to Harvest Homecoming once a year.” It can be adapted to all downtown stakeholders, not just food and drink businesses.

It restores balance, and takes a necessary step toward democratizing downtown.

What it cannot do is completely relieve the stress points created by Harvest Homecoming’s “booth days” presence in an evolving, working, beating heart of a city. In years to come, dozens of people will be living upstairs in previously vacant buildings. Festive noise and clutter are one thing, and access to living space something very different. Something’s got to give.

However, I’ve become convinced that a younger generation of Harvest Homecoming movers and doers understands the need for evolution. We worked together to stage Biers on Parade. This year’s official Harvest Homecoming program contains a centerfold map of downtown, highlighting local independent businesses. It isn’t perfect, but reformers need encouragement.

Better communication helps. If I’m elected mayor, transparency is a guarantee, and we’ll move along the process. If not, irrespective of my new life, I intend to remain involved with independent local business activities preceding Harvest Homecoming.


A final word about my parade non-participation in 2015.

This year, I couldn’t bend the parade committee to the notion of common sense, which to me implies an acceptance of walking as the simplest, most basic form of human transportation.

There was a surreal, 1960s-era quality to the conversation (paraphrasing): “You’re the candidate of walkability, and walkability is the future of our downtown? That’s nice, but don’t you want a shiny car for that? After all, it’s Hot Rod Harvest.”

No thanks. I’d just like to walk the parade.

Yes, bureaucracies usually evolve accordingly. Rule books cease being living documents, and become immutable commandments for facilitating control. But if there is any single thing I’ve learned in the craft beer business, it’s that creativity freshens stale orthodoxy – and creativity is best inspired by letting loose, as opposed to tightening up.

I believe the parade is redeemable, and should be multi-modal – just like the streets it uses each year.

We’ll get to THAT, too.

If you venture into the weekend's Harvest Homecoming scrum, remember the buildings behind the booths. The businesses inside them -- and the people living above them -- are here all year.


Recent columns:

October 1: ON THE AVENUES: No more fear, Jeff.

September 24: ON THE AVENUES: Almost two years later, Mr. Gahan has yet to plug in this clock, and so it's time for him to clock out.

September 17: ON THE AVENUES: Dear Neighbor: If you’re tired of the same old story, turn some pages.

September 10: ON THE AVENUES: Lanesville Heritage Weekend comes around again.

September 3: ON THE AVENUES: When even Mitt Romney can run to the left of New Albany’s Democrats, it's a very big problem.

August 27: ON THE AVENUES: Whips, chains and economic development (2010).

August 20: ON THE AVENUES: In the groove.

No comments: