Expanded chalk festival schedule too much for area businesses

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SARASOTA - The Sarasota Chalk Festival is just around the corner, making its return to the city's Burns Court district later this month. And while the event draws thousands of people, not everyone is excited.

Some local businesses say road closures due to the event hurt their revenue. And this year, the festival will now run for three days longer than last year. When the festival first started in 2007, it was a two-day weekend event. Fast forward five years to 2012, and organizers say this year's chalk festival will run for ten days.

Leeanne Swor opened her Burns Court clothing boutique eight years ago. She says the district is great for business, and enjoys the area's eclectic, art-centered culture, including the Sarasota Chalk Festival. “I think it's a great event. I know a lot of people put a lot of hard work into it."

But she's not happy with the news that this year's chalk festival will run for ten days. “I think it's extreme overkill. I think it should be a simple weekend chalk festival – Friday, Saturday, Sunday, done."

Swor says the festival's road closure on Pineapple Avenue keeps business away, and she's got the signatures of other retailers on the street that share her concern. "The problem is that it blocks the lifeline to my business from downtown, which is Pineapple Avenue, each year. And this year they're asking to block a portion of that for ten days, which is way too much in my opinion."

But organizer Denise Kowal says given the crowds the event draws in, ten days is needed to let the public see everything. "We do want to have the most amount of time possible for the kids and all the visitors. We had 200,000 people last year, so we don't want to create something that people can't enjoy."

And with the complexity of some of the work, Kowal says lengthening the event gives artists more time to craft their works. "Because of the shortened amount of time for them to complete the artwork, the visitors that came didn't have time to actually interact with the pieces."

The Sarasota city commission is slated to discuss the issue at its meeting Monday evening, and they'll decide on whether to keep the ten day closures or make alterations to the schedule.

The Sarasota Chalk Festival is scheduled to begin October 28.