The end of Apple Harvest is the final reminder that summer is over and we’re now beginning our long slide through autumn into winter.
Our own Apple Harvest was a mixed success; the changing New England weather left the crowds a bit more sparse than we would have liked to have seen them, but the people who did show up brought their appetites, and Friendship Lodge was benefited by that. In an interesting twist on our fund raising efforts, though, we discovered that those little fried apples that we’ve been selling for the last few years actually make more money for us than our famous Philly steak sandwiches. We never actually took a serious look at our sales until this year, when we were faced with an interesting dilemma.
Our building faces the town green, and is on a small, one-way street parallel to the main thoroughfare. Along the short block is a small office building, a bank, the American Legion, and a newly remodeled office building. The American Legion is right next door to us – we share a driveway in front and a small parking lot in the rear of the buildings.
For almost ten years, our lodge has sold steak sandwiches during the Apple Harvest Festival; it’s really our only big fundraiser, and we use the money to help maintain the old building that we’ve owned since the 1930s. In order to be a participant in the Festival, we pay a fee. We also pay a separate fee to get a tent, electricity (which we don’t use, since the tent is on our front lawn), gas hookups, and a temporary food permit. We also get some mention in one of the local sponsor flyers.
For the last three years the Festival was not run by the local Chamber of Commerce – it was turned over to private managers. Our lodge, being right on the green and in the middle of the Festival, has always kicked in a “goodwill payment” to help with the general costs. For this, we were supposed to get some extra mention in the various sponsorship ads – but each time it failed to materialize. It did entitle us to sell soda, which was a town-run franchise, but this year we noticed that several other non-sponsor vendors were selling soda, too.
Okay, stuff happens. But that’s not the worst of it.
Our neighbors, the American Legion, decided that they wanted to take advantage of the crowds and sell food outside. In a booth. Just like ours. And while they could have sold pretty much anything, especially items that weren’t already being sold (sausage & pepper sandwiches, burgers and dogs, Irish stew, turkey legs, etc.), they chose to sell. . . steak sandwiches.
The Festival managers limit the items that can be sold, so that vendors are not selling the same things. However, the American Legion does not pay the entry fee, so they do not have to abide by the same rules as the other food vendors. Being right on the green, they are in the middle of the Festival, and being 20 feet closer to the band stage, they probably intercepted some of the traffic that we would have otherwise had.
They also priced their sandwiches a dollar lower than ours (we lowered our own prices to match). They also opted to sell drinks, and since they did not need to pay anything to the town supplier, were able to price their soda lower than the rest of us. Complaints to the Festival managers went nowhere, as they had no authority to do anything.
I know that the libertarian-minded people will say that this is just a matter of supply and demand, of simple economics – but that is not the way that the rest of us viewed the situation. All of the other vendors agreed to abide by certain rules, with the understanding that such rules turn a potential free-for-all into an organized community event.
Every year we always have one or two members who ask why we continue to pay a fee to the town. “The Legion never pays anything, and they get the benefits. Why don’t we do the same thing? We could put up our own tent and sell what we want, and keep all the money.” And every year, a few of us sigh and explain that while it’s frustrating for us, the majority of the members of our lodge believe that it’s the right thing to do. We believe that we are part of the community, and we want to contribute in any way that we can.
It’s easy to voice those sentiments when things are going well, of course, but it’s another thing to hold to your principles when faced with opposition. We spent the two weekends kicking around the idea of not paying the entry fee next year, but really, it was more about blowing off some steam.
But ultimately, this all led to some good things. At the meeting after the end of the Festival, we discussed a number of alternatives to sell; this included taking a closer look at how well the fried apples were selling, and what we could add or subtract to the mix. Some of the officers are already coming up with ideas for the next year, and I fully expect that our fund raising efforts for next year will be completely different.