Friday, May 14, 2021

Chamber wants say over what groups use nearby parking lot areas

The Western News | April 27, 2021 7:00 AM

A burgeoning feud between two local outdoor markets bubbled over during a Libby City Council meeting last week.

Members of the Libby Chamber of Commerce came before the council on April 19 asking for a greater say over what groups have access to the parking lot adjacent to the group’s building. Representatives said the city, which owns the land and leases it to the organization, has historically allowed groups to use the lot without running it by the chamber.

Bruce Vincent, secretary of the chamber’s board of directors, said visitors often assume the chamber sponsors or organizes whatever event is occurring in the nearby parking lot. He and other representatives alleged that attendees of unaffiliated events harassed chamber employees and demanded use of its restrooms.

Chamber representatives worried that the assumed association between their organization and nearby events could damage its reputation and brand.

Vincent said the chamber also worried that outside events near the chamber building could lead to lawsuits in the event of an accident or injury.

But it quickly became apparent that a rival outdoor market was the source of the chamber’s ire. When City Councilor Kristin Smith asked for specifics, Mayor Brent Teske said the issue came to a head after City Hall gave the Libby Vendor Market permission to use the lot for an event.

Megan Rayome, chamber board member, said the rival market’s branding raised trademark concerns. In addition to advertising the event space as “the chamber of commerce parking lot,” Rayome said organizers copied the forms and fonts used by the chamber's Farmers Market at Libby.

“It’s meant to look like our exact market for the purpose of fooling people because our market has established so much goodwill,” she said. “I support the concept of another market, I just think they need a different location or if we have this process moving forward we will all decide together.”

Organizers of the Libby Vendor Market rebutted the imitation claims in follow up interviews, saying their organization predated the chamber’s launch of the Farmers Market at Libby.

Juanita Schikora, vendor market board president, said she had helped start what would become the vendor market 16 years ago. At the time, the group was known as the Libby Farmers Market. When the chamber began their market a few years ago, Schikora recalled having trouble with them using their name.

“They used our name several times and I had to call,” she said during an April 21 interview. “It was a real bad time for the first year.”

Schikora said that since the Libby Farmers Market had registered their name with the state first, the chamber had to settle on The Farmers Market at Libby. Chamber representatives, however, alleged during the April 19 meeting that the Libby Farmers Market had not registered their name with the state prior to the formation of The Farmers Market at Libby.

Recently, Schikora said her group had changed their name to the Libby Vendor Market to reflect the increasing amount of nonagricultural products on sale at their market.

Schikora acknowledged that her group had advertised the location of their event as the chamber parking lot but said that she was working to change the wording to Fireman Park parking lot.

During the April 19 meeting, city officials said that such a change would be more accurate. While chamber representatives argued they should have oversight of the parking lot, Teske said the terms of the organization's lease did not give it claim to all of the parking area in the vicinity of its building, which is hemmed by the City of Libby Cemetery and Fireman Park.

According to the mayor, the chamber leases an acre from the city. The agreement, however, does not clearly define the bounds of the acre. Teske said he took measurements of the parking lot area the chamber historically uses for the Farmers Market at Libby, which came out to just over an acre. The remainder of the lot adjacent to the Libby Chamber of Commerce building constitutes Fireman Park parking lot.

“If you want to take more property, we can discuss that,” said Teske. “But the parking lot that’s remaining … that’s [the] Fireman Park parking lot. That’s where these folks are going to be.”

The mayor said that the liability concerns raised by chamber representatives were null considering that the vendor market would be holding their event outside of chamber property. Vendor market organizers had also secured insurance.

Liz Whalen, president of the chamber’s board of directors, asked councilors to wait until the chamber and city could formalize the space covered in the chamber’s lease before allowing any more events in the parking lot. She also requested that councilors temporarily suspend any approved events.

Teske said the city would work with the chamber to nail down the terms of the lease. He could not, however, see how the city could retract its agreement with the vendor market after organizers had taken out insurance and begun advertising their event.

“Unless someone is willing to reimburse these folks, I don’t know how or why we can order them to cease and desist when they’ve already got financial interest in this,” said Teske.

Rayome said the chamber board might be willing to accept invoices from the vendor market as a show of goodwill.