It was 108 degrees outdoors, and not much cooler inside the Seventh Avenue Merchants Association Quarterly Meeting when a Board Member walked out Thursday night.
Rochelle Poulton, wife of S.A.M.A. President Mike Poulton, told about 15 attendees she was done helping to organize the Seventh Avenue Street Fair, their largest annual event.
“I quit,” She said. “Thanks.”
Then she left the building through a nearby back door.
A credit attorney, Mrs Poulton was originally appointed to the Board in 2017.
She worked alongside veteran Melrose activist Pam Pawlowski, City of Phoenix Neighborhood Specialist Lisa Huggins-Hubbard, marketing consultant Jacki Caro, and others to cultivate the fair that happened this past March.
She helped to coordinate sponsors, the layout of the fair, and has presided over three Street Fair Committee meetings since then.
She also organized the creation of an aerial marketing video of the 2018 Street Fair which has yet to be released.
Mrs. Poulton refused to come back into Thursday’s meeting after about ten minutes of back-and-forth disagreement over two of several changes enacted for next year’s fair.
Mike Poulton wrote in a July 27 e-mail that his wife’s resignation from the volunteer leadership position with the non-profit is not yet official.
“No further decisions have been made and no further actions have been taken since last night’s meeting,” he wrote. “We all had to go to work today.”
Mrs. Poulton did not respond to an e-mail request for a comment Friday afternoon
(Read about Street Fair changes not discussed in depth at Thursday’s meeting here.)
Increase in Booth Prices:
The first decision that evoked discontent Thursday was a blanket increase in vendor booth prices to a minimum of $150.00.
The Presidents of the Pierson Place Historic District and Grandview Neighborhood Associations (representing the residential northern half of the Melrose Mile) both objected to the rate hike.
“We won’t be doing that at $150,” said Pam Pawlowski, President of the Grandview Neighborhood Association. “I don’t know if that’s a concern or not.”
Pawlowski resigned from S.A.M.A.’s Board in 2017, but still sits on the Board of the Community Alliance of Seventh Avenue with Charley Jones, who is also President of the Pierson Place Historic District, and still sits on S.A.M.A.’s Board as an advisor.
“I second that,” Jones said. “Pierson Place won’t be doing (a booth) either.”
To be clear, Jones and Pawlowski sit on two Melrose area boards each, in addition to their involvement with S.A.M.A.
Few if any organized events have happened in Melrose the last several years without one or both in attendance.
“I think (the booth rate) was grandfathered in at half-price years ago as a way to include the adjacent associations,” Jones continued. “You might want to look at it.”
Rochelle thanked Jones and Pawlowski for their feedback.
“We’ll discuss it,” she said. “It’s good to know, because we don’t know these things unless you bring them up.”
C.A.S.A., of which Jones is also President, is technically a subsidiary of S.A.M.A.
Curbside Vendor Booths:
“The layout (of tents) is going to be along the streets now to bring focus to the businesses behind them, and to also open up that center lane,” Rochelle reported. “They’ll be strategically placed so that way they lead you right into a business.”
Rochelle said she and the Street Fair Committee will program booth spacing to target specific businesses.
“It was kind of difficult to navigate the space (in 2018),” she said. “(Next year) We can have a space big enough so we can be like, hey, you’re hungry, here’s this wonderful restaurant.”
Rochelle referred to Short Leash Hot Dogs by name, which opens tomorrow night at 7th and Heatherbrae Avenues. (read more.)
Several at the meeting voiced concern that merchants along the street could lose business if vendors faced inward toward each other that day.
“I am totally 100% against that,” said Stacy Louis. “It was done either 11 or 12 years ago and the response from the merchants in the Association was horribly bad.”
Louis owns Stacy’s @ Melrose Nightclub at 7th and Turney Avenues.
He was not involved in the Fair the previous time the Board lined the booths against the curbs – it was over a decade ago – but has helped to organize Street Fairs since.
“I’m not worried about the tents because I have the (classic) cars in front of (my bar),” he said. “I’m worried about the Melrose businesses that will be affected by this.”
Louis did not plan the 2018 fair, but was not alone in that opinion.
“Of all the things S.A.M.A.’s done over the years, the single most angriest time for all its members was the year I decided to put booths against the curb,” said Dave Cook, owner of Melrose-based Tan International and former S.A.M.A. Board member. “Most of the businesses complained they made less money that day than on a regular Saturday.”
S.A.M.A. Membership Director Kenyatta Turner explained the Committee’s vision.
“If I’m the guy walking down looking inward at the street, because that is where the vendors are, then I might not even notice that there is a building on the other side of the street, because there’s nothing going on there,” she said. “But if I’m walking down the street and I’m looking at vendor booths (at the curbs), I will see that there are signs and other things going on.”
Turner said the Committee worked hard to address concerns of what happened before.
“I didn’t see the event 11 years ago,” she elaborated. “I would have to speculate that the factors around that event have to be different than 11 years later, in terms of publicity and marketing.”
Rochelle said that S.A.M.A. is not encouraging vendors to put backs on their tents.
“But as a traditional vendor, it’s pretty typical to have a back to my booth,” offered Amy Guerrero, owner of Sunshine Craft Co. on Campbell Avenue. “I would encourage you to be very clear with vendors.”
Guerrero has not yet joined S.A.M.A. but attended Thursday’s meeting to observe.
“The important part is that the street fair has got to be good for the merchants,” Jones interjected. “You’ve got to be really darn sure this type of change is going to be successful and not hurt merchants.”
Rochelle said the decision to change the layout was also for fire ingress and egress.
“I put a lot of thought into it,” she said. “There’s no blockage, it brings attention to your businesses.”
The Board did not communicate much willingness to reconsider the location of booth placement after concerns were raised in the meeting.
“It’s been decided,” Rochelle said. “We had three meetings on it.”
Communication at Heart of Issue:
Louis said he was disappointed a major Street Fair decision was made without his and others’ knowledge.
“If I hadn’t heard about it last night, I wouldn’t have known any of this,” Louis said. “I think that’s poor communication.”
Rochelle insisted she e-mailed Stacy and other key people in the room about Street Fair feedback and Committee meetings, though not a single one said they received a detailed e-mail.
“The fact that (Cook) says he didn’t get it, (Pawlowski) said she didn’t get it, and I have you saying you sent it to me,” Louis said to Rochelle directly. “How can I work with that?”
Louis asked Rochelle why she doesn’t send the update e-mails to the entire membership.
“Because that makes more work for me,” Rochelle said.
S.A.M.A. Treasurer Margo Magnum said the Committee’s decision should stand.
“You guys can’t expect everything, every quarter, to be laid out,” she said. “If you want to know what’s going on, get involved.”
Magnum opened her preschool on Highland Avenue in 2007 and participated for several S.A.M.A. events over the years.
She opened her new, larger preschool at Osborn Road this year in which Thursday’s meeting was held.
(Read more about The Board exploring options to expand S.A.M.A. out of “Melrose”)
“We bust our asses trying to put everything together, doing the research, making sure we put everything in place the way it needs to be,” Magnum continued. “And the way we feel best may not be the way it used to be, sorry.”
Magnum said the changes should be given a chance.
“We can’t communicate every detail of what’s going on,” said S.A.M.A. President Mike Poulton. “We’ve solicited the input and we’re open to the input, but we can’t rehash everything at subsequent meetings where it’s not on the agenda.”
Mike, a commercial attorney, hosts the regular Board and Committee meetings at his law office at 4601 N. 7th Avenue in Melrose.
S.A.M.A. hosted a Street Fair recap meeting in April.
“We have got to have this level of participation in the Street Fair meeting,” he said. “If people have this strong of an opinion about how the street fair should be run, and have this much at stake, man, you have got to go to that meeting.”
Cook did not agree it’s the members’ duty to inform themselves of Board decisions.
“It’s the Board’s job to do all communication to its members,” he said. “It’s not the members’ job to scratch and claw for information.”
Cook said that years ago general meetings used to be held once a month.
Mike Poulton said they were changed to quarterly before anyone on the current Board became involved.
“I have a lot of empathy for you people,” opined Dave Derrick, a resident of the Carnation area of Melrose. “(But), if you’re a member of a union, and you’re complaining about the union, are you also going to the meetings?”
Derrick suggested the Board broadcast its meetings digitally.
“You guys could post your meetings on Facebook Live,” Guerrero added.
Rochelle said she used to pay to host a call-in meeting hotline but said few people used it.
Cook suggested S.A.M.A. produce a newsletter for all the merchants, as in the past.
“You’re trying to do everything through email, social media, all that stuff,” he said. “I think really you need to find a way to reach out to your members on a monthly basis.”
Seconds later Mrs. Poulton stood up and said she was leaving.
“This isn’t personal,” several people shouted to her. “Come, sit back down.”
She did not.
Turner took over the meeting from there.
“I’m glad that we got to have this discussion,” she said. “Obviously, some things are going to change that some people may love and some people may not.”
Turner used to live in Melrose before moving to Scottsdale. She still sells pre-paid legal services, including products marketed specifically to Melrose Merchants.
Mike Poulton said he was not sure if his wife intended to resign from the Board completely.
He said he would inform the membership if the Board plans to hold an election.
July 27 E-mail from Mike Poulton: