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In 1979, when the Jaycees began Culpeper Day in an effort to help revitalize an almost abandoned Davis Street, the merchants were thrilled.
Thirty-two years later, Davis Street has returned as a robust commercial district and its merchants, who now concentrate as much on tourism as local traffic, are complaining that blocking off two streets for Culpeper Day is hurting their businesses.
The Culpeper Ruritan Club, which took over Culpeper Day in the early 1990s, is worried that abandoning or moving the annual festival will cost them dollars they now give away in high school scholarships and other deserving projects.
The Culpeper Town Council is caught right square in the middle.
Tuesday night the council refused to act on the Ruritan Club's request to block off Davis and Commerce streets and a small portion of Culpeper Street from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. for next year's festival, which is traditionally held on the first Saturday in May.
Instead, the council sent the issue back to the Public Safety Committee, which less than 10 days ago recommended that the Ruritan Club's permit request be denied.
"Some months ago the merchants signed a petition saying Culpeper Day should be moved to another location," said Councilman Bobby Ryan. "The merchants are the lifeblood of the town."
Billy Walter, secretary of the Ruritan Club, said in an interview yesterday that there is no other location.
"[Culpeper Day on Davis Street] is a tradition," he said.
In a presentation before the council last night, Walter added that he has tried to address the parking concerns of Davis Street merchants by looking to a satellite lot and a shuttle service.
He also said that next May the Ruritan Club hopes to partner with a multiple sclerosis group to hold a fundraising walk along Davis Street as part of Culpeper Day.
Janet Driggers, who is a member of that MS group and whose husband has had MS for 12 years now, told the council that "99 percent of the downtown merchants support that walk."
"We're trying to do what's right for the downtown businesses," said Councilman Dave Lochridge, who suggested sending the issue back to committee.
Mayor Chip Coleman and Public Safety Committee Chairman Jim Risner agreed, both saying that Walter's new parking plan might make a difference.
Walter said his service club hopes to get a decision on the issue by the council's November meeting.
"Getting approval used to be no big deal," he said. "Now, suddenly, it is a big deal."