WARRENSBURG - Local chamber of commerce officials said Feb. 23 they'd be taking action soon to protect revenue from spaces they rent out for the World's Largest Garage Sale to avoid having to abandon their sponsorship of the event - which is one of the largest of its kind in the nation.
Citing a migration of World's Largest Garage Sale vendors onto private property - a trend that's been eroding the chamber's income in recent years - chamber officials said they'll be lobbying the town board, seeking a 50 percent increase in the fees the town charges to vendors who rent out from landowners in the core area of town during the event.
Soon after they met Feb. 23 with Main Street landowners to find a solution to their sagging income, Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce President Lynn Smith and Vice President Dennis Martinez said they'd be asking the town board for an increase in the town independent vendor fee from $20 to $30.
Smith warned that the chamber would abandon their traditional sponsorship of the immensely popular event if some change wasn't made to shore up the chambers profit.
This nationally known event annually draws 70,000 to 100,000 people into the county on the first weekend in October to browse for bargains. It is one of the largest events of any kind in Warren County.
Smith cited figures showing a trend of ballooning expenses and shrinking revenues, the latter primarily due to vendors seeking to bypass the chamber-sponsored vendor plots - rented out for Saturday and Sunday only during the Sale- and setting up on private land.
During the past decade, vendors have spread from chamber plots onto private land, primarily on North Main St., citing less expensive space rentals, the ability to set up for three or more days rather than being limited to just two, and more flexibility in space. In 2008, the chamber rented only 152 of their 260 available spaces, compared to renting 189 of their 263 spaces in 2007.
Since 2006, the chamber's net income has dropped from $41,383 to $30,922, and the Garage Sale income is vital to keeping the chamber running all year long, Martinez said.
And since the chamber staff works all year planning, promoting and answering vendor inquiries, the chamber income needs to be shored up, he said.
Martinez said expenses for port-a-jons, and garbage removal have increased substantially.
Last year, the chamber-contracted cleanup crew hauled away 25 tons of garbage after the event, rather than the 15 tons collected the year earlier, he said.
The fee collected from vendors on private land applies to the "core area" of town, or along Main, Elm and Hudson streets and Richards Ave.
At the meeting, Smith and Martinez suggested voluntary donations from private vendors, but Eileen Frasier of Seasons Bed & Breakfast argued successfully that such a system wouldn't raise much money at all.
Only a handful of property owners - those with a conscience - would be donating, she said.
Don Bagwell of Warrensburg, one of the vendors that rents a plot on North Main St., said part of the sagging revenue is due not only to the economic slump, but because of the ever-increasing restrictions, and the crackdown in recent years by code enforcement officers, state sales tax enforcers, and health inspectors.
"Since 2001, it's been more of a financial strain to be a vendor at nearly any kind of event," Bagwell said. "Less and less people are doing shows each year, and there's less revenue."
Last year, dozens of food vendors, including local church ladies selling homemade baked goods, were shut down by the state inspectors for preparing food at home and not in a state-inspected commercial kitchen.
Also, dozens of others were shut down for not having a sales tax license or collecting taxes.
"If you're a little old lady crocheting 10 hand warmers, you now need a sales tax license," he said.
Other vendors, from out of the area, were arrested for selling counterfeit goods.