A note from the Chamber president on the 49th D-Fest and coming 50th
Last updated 10/17/2019 at 8:58am
Nearly three weeks have passed since the 49th annual Deutschesfest. It was, by most accounts, a successful one. Great weather, no conflict from the Spokane Fair, and strong marketing efforts by our local businesses and chamber volunteers certainly helped with attendance which always translates into success for all. That said, there have been some issues that continue to come to my attention that I feel should be addressed as your chamber president.
The first issue is the presence of vendors on First Avenue. Multiple times throughout the week leading up to and during the weekend of fest, I received phone calls and visits from members of the community and elected officials informing me of their displeasure with this change. “We’ve never done it that way before” and “it’s a traffic concern due to lack of visibility” have been the most common complaints I have heard. My response is this: I know it hasn’t been done that way before, and that’s ok! We (as a chamber of commerce) are always looking for ways to improve the event. For years, we have fielded concerns from businesses and organizations that conduct their business on the west end of town that Fest is a bust for them. Foot traffic seldom makes it west of Napa or Das Kraut Haus. The idea was to put some attractions and vendors further west to help drive foot traffic closer to these groups and businesses. Local law enforcement gave us the green light and we tried something new. Unfortunately, due to some lack of communication on all sides and an unwillingness to comply from those responsible for placing vendors in their spots, this didn’t happen, and so we still didn’t have vendors west of Alder/Highway 21. As a member of the chamber board, one of our primary responsibilities is to commit to helping all of our member organizations. We tried to help some members on the west end of town. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t, but I can assure you the intent was only to help, and any negatives that came from it were unintended and unforeseen.
As for the traffic safety concern, I found myself at the intersection in question multiple times throughout the weekend. My vision was never hindered any more than when a farmer parks on main street with their seed truck to run an errand or when a bus is parked at a bus stop on the side of the road in a larger city. Calls were made to our local law enforcement and they shared my view and confirmed that everyone was within the law. To anyone who was genuinely concerned for their safety, I do genuinely apologize.
The other issue brought up to me time and time again was the presence of out-of-town food vendors. I am well aware of the history of keeping our food local, and I whole-heartedly embrace that. However, up until a few short months ago, Das Kraut Haus and JonathINN’s were not going to be participating in Deutschesfest (or at least not in the capacity that they had in the past). More recently JonathINN’s had a change of heart and Jeff Melcher with his family and friends stepped up to take up the space in Das Kraut Haus. However, at that point we had already started contingency plans. We were to be left with a huge void, as those two vendors contribute an estimated 50-60 percent of the food sold at Fest. This created a need for more food vendors, and we had already responded. I called every German food truck I could find (there are two in the state) and was never given a response. German food wasn’t an option, so I called a local man from Moses Lake who owns a taco truck. This same man has come to the rescue at the Desert 100 for the last six years to sell food when few Odessa organizations have been willing to do so. He is directly responsible for over $4,000 in contributions that have gone to local Odessa High School seniors from the Rocky Coulee Brewing Co./Stumpjumper Motorcycle Club scholarship. He altered his menu to put a German spin on his authentic Mexican items and was ecstatic with the opportunity to be a part of our festival. The way he was treated and the words I have heard used to describe his operation since have left me sleepless, angry and saddened. We are better people than that, and our visitors and invited guests deserve better.
The man selling elephant ears on First Avenue is a resident of the Marlin/Wilson Creek area–just like myself and many of the students and farm families who choose to be a part of the Odessa community, churches and school district. He has also been willing to vend at the Desert 100 and Frostbite/White Knuckle races when we were short on vendors and nobody from Odessa had been willing to fill the need. He was invited to come here to help fill a void and sell unique items. It doesn’t seem right to me that he should be denied that opportunity.
Moving forward from these issues, I think there are a lot of positives to take away from the 49th Deutschesfest. We had a lot of new faces in new roles this year. Our local law enforcement probably felt like deer in the headlights coming into the weekend, but they, along with our public works employees, did an excellent job of making things work on behalf of the Town of Odessa.
Next, my hat is off to Trevor Smith and Kory Kolterman for the excellent job they did as chairman and co-chairman of the Biergarten. It’s not an easy job. There were many potentially catastrophic issues behind the scenes with beer orders, licensing issues, refrigeration, infrastructure problems and so on. These guys kept their cool and pulled it off without a hitch with enthusiasm and smiles on their faces. When you see them, thank them for a job well done! There are dozens and dozens of other volunteers both in the public eye and behind the scenes who make Deutschesfest possible. There are too many to list, but you know who you are, and we thank you all for your selflessness and hard work. We owe you so much more than a sausage plate and a beer!
In closing, I want to extend to everyone an invitation to the Chamber of Commerce. We have a lot of planning and work to do. The 50th Deutschesfest is less than a year away. We want to make it the best ever but we will need all hands on deck. It takes more than 5-6 weeks prior to the event to pull it off, and it takes more than just the active chamber members to make it happen. Let’s communicate and work together as one unified effort rather than each group focusing on just their own specific concerns. Let’s get the float going again. Let’s get bigger and better attractions, activities and events to bring in more visitors. Let’s get our friends, cousins, classmates, nieces and nephews who haven’t been to fest in 5, 10 or 20 years to come back. Let’s have some new things to show them when they get here. Come to our chamber meetings the second Tuesday of each month. If you are part of a business or the school or a church or club or city government with a vested interest in this event, we want to hear from you and work with you. Elections are coming up for positions within the chamber. Come get involved and take some ownership and gain perspective in the things we do (or try to do). If running for a position isn’t your cup of tea, that’s okay, we still need and want to hear your perspective. There is always room at the table. Thank you for your continued support, and I look forward to working with you and serving our community!
Zach Schafer, President, Odessa Chamber