DUNEDIN — The city is exploring a new location for its twice-annual antiques fair in light of downtown merchants' complaints that the vendors trespass on their property and loudly hawk flea market-quality items like used underwear and buttons.
For at least a decade, Dunedin has shut down Main Street one Saturday each March and October for the fair and an antique car show on Broadway Avenue.
While the car show hasn't drawn any complaints, a group of business owners this spring gathered 54 petition signatures from employees, customers, residents and other merchants pleading that the fair be canceled.
A subsequent informal survey by the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association garnered similar results.
"Everybody said they didn't want the antiques fair to continue as it was, and at least half the people said they wanted to see it go away totally," said Trina Cooney, merchants association president and owner of Flanagan's Irish Pub. "But they still wanted there to be an event because an event brings business."
Dunedin parks director Vince Gizzi said he attends the fair annually and has never witnessed the bad behavior experienced by merchants. But he plans to recommend next week that city commissioners move the fair from Main Street to Edgewater Park.
He will also recommend that the car show continue in its current location. The next event is planned for Oct. 5 — the same day as the Dunedin Brewery's Oktobeerfest.
"If merchants feel it's substandard … I don't want to be pushing it on them. (But) I think there are really a lot of people who like the antiques fair. The (fair) does bring a lot of business to downtown and the restaurants are full," Gizzi said. "But I felt a compromise would be to move it to a park that is still downtown but off of Main Street."
Merchants say their gripe with the antiques fair stretches back as far as the 1990s. In addition to selling subpar items that don't meet the true definition of an antique, vendors loudly call to potential customers, former merchants association president Gregory Brady told city commissioners earlier this month.
Peter Kreuziger, whose Advantus Leasing Management Services rents space to 14 downtown businesses, said several tenants have complained to him that dealers entered their businesses and tried to lure away customers with the promise of lower prices. Cooney said fair attendees also tried to barter with shop owners to buy their merchandise at bargain-basement prices.
And in at least one instance, Cooney said, a merchant said a vendor seeking refuge from the rain during the fair in March set up shop on the sidewalk under the businesses' awnings. The vendor reportedly covered the merchant's sandwich board sign and left litter behind at the end of the day. A vendor shouted a profanity at yet another merchant who asked the vendor not to block the doorway, she said.
About five years ago, Cooney said, the city moved the fair to Highlander Park because of similar complaints, but attendance significantly dwindled. She said the city agreed to let the merchants association, rather than the city, review and pre-register dealer applications, but the dealers wouldn't cooperate.
"We have so many events downtown and this is the only one where basically all of the downtown merchants got together and said we don't want that," Kreuziger said. "This is bringing the image of Dunedin down."
Kreuziger said he wouldn't object to the Edgewater Park location.
But Gizzi said the fair's fate is ultimately up to city commissioners. Either way, he said, "I can't guarantee that we're going to have an upscale antiques fair. And I don't know there is such a thing. That would be a lot to monitor."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153, email@example.com or on Twitter @KeyonnaSummers.