By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — Now that Nashville has got a major league soccer team, Fairgrounds vendors are worried.
“The proposed plan for the stadium is right on top of where all the outside vendors are and four buildings, how is that not going to impact us at all?” asked Tonya Jackson.
Mayor Barry and the Fair Board have promised the continuity of events at the Fairgrounds, including car racing and the flea market. What they haven’t said is whether vendors will have to move or that soccer games won’t stop the flea market from happening on the last weekend of each month.
“The major thing is we have schedules to keep. We go cross-country. We do shows in Massachusetts, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and if they change these schedules then it’s going to affect our schedule somewhere else,” said Mathew Jackson.
Tonya and Mathew Jackson have been vendors at the Fairgrounds for seven years.
They rent 8 spaces just outside the racetrack where they sell painted furniture and handmade reproduction primitives on the same spot on the last weekend of every month except November when the flea market occurs on the third weekend. It’s been that way for 30-plus years.
Jackson said there are probably more than a thousand vendors at the flea market and several thousand shoppers. The Jacksons make about five hundred sales during a good weekend in Nashville.
“We never miss Nashville. We will turn down another show to come to Nashville. But if they change the dates we may have to quit coming, “ he said.
On Saturday, December 16, about thirty vendors met with Fairgrounds Executive Director Laura Schloesser, Darden Copeland and Mary Cavarra who work for John Ingram, the man behind Nashville’s successful bid to join Major League Soccer.
They were there to get answers about their future at the Fairgrounds.
“I asked them if they could guarantee us, as flea marketers, that it (soccer) would not interfere with our 4th weekend or the third week in November,” said Tonya Jackson.
“I was polite at first but then I got a little mad because they wouldn’t answer my question,” she said.
Cavarra told them most of the matches would be scheduled during the week. There are 17 home games and 17 away games during the MLS season. In addition to those games, Ingram would control another 14 events. The season runs March through October. The playoffs happen in November and December.
If Nashville made it to the playoffs or if Nashville also fields a team in the National Women’s Soccer League, then there would be double the number of home games, playoff matches, and the vendors’ schedule would likely change.
“The meeting started off poorly with Mary Cavarra coming in late and when Laura introduced Mary from the Ingram Group, she spent the next two and a half minutes, half a dozen times referring to Mary as Melissa,” said Shane Smiley, a longtime vendor advocate.
The Sports Authority has asked John Ingram to bring a women’s professional soccer team to Nashville. Smiley said that would mean MLS team owner Ingram would control the venue for fifty events during the year at the Fairgrounds.
“The way they treated us in the meeting was that we are a bunch of lowlifes who didn’t understand what they were saying. A lot of us are educated. This is just the job that we chose to do,” said Jackson.
The vendors didn’t get the assurances they were hoping from Schloesser or the Ingram people. Four days later about twenty vendors wearing red t-shirts went to the press conference at the Country Music Hall of Fame to hear the big announcement that Nashville had been picked to join MLS.
Smiley said they were kept from entering the building by security guards.
Fairgrounds Director Schloesser declined to be interviewed for this article. She did provide the Tribune with a written statement:
“We understand that this news brings with it questions on scheduling and continuity of business. Fairgrounds leadership is committed to minimizing operational impacts during any improvement effort so that we can continue to provide service to vendors, their small businesses, and their customers.
The Fair Board has reiterated the absolute need to ensure the stability of Flea Market weekends as they have been scheduled and it has tools available such as the operational and ground leases to define and secure Fairgrounds uses. Further details will be developed as planning progresses. The Fairgrounds, Metro and the soccer ownership group have committed to working closely with Fairgrounds stakeholders, including vendors, throughout planning and construction.”
“That is false,” said Tonya Jackson. “We all said “No” we didn’t want it on the fairgrounds. All this time they have been planning this, we have been trying to find out and nobody would answer our questions,” she said.
WKRN ran an online poll December 18, asking people if they would support a MLS franchise in Nashville. There were about 1200 respondents. Sixty percent said “No” and thirty-five percent voted “Yes”. Four percent said, “Let’s wait and see.”