Business representatives voice concerns for Roots 'N' Blues

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Matt Istwan, managing partner for Déjà Vu Comedy Club, is concerned about coming off as the "bad guy" to his customers during this year's Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival.

Istwan said the rules concerning open containers at the festival haven't been clear in the past, and he and his employees have had to tell patrons to empty their cups or remain in certain areas.

“We were the bad guys to the patrons telling them, 'No, you can’t leave this area,'” he said.

Istwan was among about 20 business representatives who expressed concerns Monday at an informational meeting about the upcoming festival. Istwan said  businesses need a clear and concise plan regarding alcohol for the 2009 event.

“(Local businesses) simply want a level playing field,” Istwan said.

In the past two years, he said, there has been too much “gray area” surrounding the policy and where it was enforced.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said his department will hold vendors responsible if they sell alcohol to minors or to people obviously intoxicated.

Burton said there will be more officers at this year's festival, and they will be deployed differently. Unlike last year's festival, officers will patrol inside the footprint this year.

"About every 60 feet, you should see another pair of cops," Burton said.

Training for those selling alcohol is also different this year. The department recommends everyone selling alcohol to undergo State of Missouri Alcohol Responsibility Training before being allowed to sell at the festival.

Burton said the department will recommend the City Council make the training requirement part of its resolution for the festival.

Business representatives also pressed the Police Department for punishment standards for those caught breaking the open-container rules at the festival. While Burton said he did not want to take away the officers' discretion to judge circumstances individually, the law will be followed.

"If they're breaking the law, we plan on making an arrest," Burton said.

Local businesses will also have the opportunity to apply for a sidewalk cafe license.  This would give a business a license to sell alcohol by the drink on the city sidewalk adjacent to the restaurant. The application is free, but the license comes with certain restrictions regarding the serving and consumption of alcohol.

Clay Strawn with Klicks Bar and Snappers Bar said he felt the businesses' concerns were addressed at the meeting. He said his bar will run business as usual during the festival. Snappers and Klicks did well during the festival last year, Strawn said.

Istwan also said he felt his concerns were heard Monday.

"I feel very appreciative that they are going through this process this year," Istwan said.

Kurt Mirtsching, marketing director for Shakespeare’s Pizza, said his concerns were answered, but he said each business is unique and has different questions.

“It’s really hard for (this festival) to come together and have it be all things for all people,” he said.

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