Or How a POS Called HB2 has Left AVL Wondering WTF?
I’m not an investigative reporter, so I apologize in advance for my attempt at taking on a serious subject, but I was curious to know if and how the HB2 boycott of NC might be affecting the Asheville food scene, so I asked some of my friends and contacts in the industry a pretty simple question: “Is HB2 affecting your business negatively?”
Most folks said “yes,” to one degree or another HB2 has affected them negatively, and some people were willing to go on record with more details. A couple of them did say no, they have not been affected, but I would caution that it’s early days of this boycott yet, and Summer ain’t even started. This thing could end up being a huge fucking bummer for us out here in our little über liberal city in the mountains, where we depend so heavily on tourism and good press to drive our service economy. Despite our frequent complaints about tourists, we know that we can not possibly drink all this beer and eat all this chocolate all by ourselves, so business people in the food and beverage industry are keeping a close eye on “the numbers,” while this dang boycott is in place. I’m sorry to say that the news is not awesome.
For now, The Numbers seem to be going down or holding steady.
When the business owners I talked to mention “The Numbers” going up or down — whether those numbers refer to reservations, web traffic, or cash money — they are comparing figures from March – May, 2016 to figures from the same time period of the previous year or years. Numbers elude me, but one that I heard several people say stuck with me: “30%.”
“The Numbers are down 30% across the board, all over town,” one business person who deals directly with several restaurants told me point blank. A downtown restaurateur was also straight-up with me, “We’re down 30% in sales from last year.”
Daaag, Yo. That’s fucking brutal.
Asheville’s food scene has — for the most part — enjoyed a steady up-tick in The Numbers for several years in a row, and I know for a fact that the whole scene was excited and gearing up for another hefty increase in The Numbers this year. With more hotel rooms than ever, and all the national press we’ve been getting in magazines, newspapers, and blogs all across the country and world, telling travelers and foodies, You gotta go the Asheville, the food industry people that I know were pumped for growth, but instead there’s the dark cloud of significant shrinkage on the horizon, and no one is sure how shranked-up it’s gonna get.
Paddy from Asheville Food Tours met me at Trade and Lore cafe on Wall Street, and talked with me for a good bit about a lot of stuff including the HB2 boycott, and how it’s affecting his local business, one that, as you can well imagine, depends on growth in the tourism trade as well as a healthy food scene.
He went on record with me, saying that “Business is steady, but web traffic to AshevilleFoodTours.com is down by 30%.”
There it is again. Loosing thirty percent of anything is effing brutal, I’m telling you what. If you don’t believe me, start throwing 30% of your cash money into the French Broad River every week and watch it float away. Brutal. Or imagine that 30% of your hair fell out over night. Brutal. Oh, I know, cut off 30% of your fingers. Okay, too brutal. Let’s get back to Paddy…
He went on to tell me that Asheville Food Tours has indeed had more than one individual cancel on account of HB2, but the good news is that there’s been no mass exodus as of yet. He also pointed out to me that cancelled reservations are non-refundable, and we agreed with each other that it’s very meaningful and powerful whenever people are willing to sacrifice money on account of their principals. When Americans don’t care about losing money, yeah, no, shits be serious.
Keeping track of cancellations is probably one of the easiest ways to gauge the effect of any travel and tourism boycott.
Restaurateurs and other business people can report cancellations to Stephanie Pace Brown, head of Asheville’s Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chef Peter Pollay from Posana told me that when his restaurant “had a private event cancelled due to HB2,” he contacted the CVB to let them know, and “They appreciated my email and want to be notified of any local business that is affected by HB2.”
Peter’s client not only cited the HB2 boycott as a reason for the cancellation, but they also sent him 3 PDF files of travel bans from the states of New York and Minnesota, as well the District of Columbia (Washington, DC)! WTF?!? Um, aren’t travel bans usually issued for dangerous places like Syria, Ukraine, and Florida? Well, Travel Bans can also be issued for anywhere that state governments feel is in violation of civil rights, and as you know, The Federal Government has already declared that HB2 and NC are violating Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act. ._.
Can we secede from North Carolina?
That is probably the #1 question being asked in Asheville these days in relationship to HB2’s long, chilly reach, and the tangible effect it’s having on our economy and reputation. Unfortch the answer is obviously “no, you can not secede from North Carolina, you fucking hippies.” Yeah yeah, we all know that we can’t do that, but gotdanggit! We sure do hope that the rest of the country understands how effing frustrating it is for us, up here in the funkiest, grooviest, most loving, and accepting little city in Dixie to have the stink of Governor McCrory’s HB2 hate turd befoul our clear mountain air and besmirch our good name all over the world. We’re the town that got Pepsi to change it’s billboard from “Pepsitown” to “Love Town!” We’re not some horrible haven of hatred to be shunned and avoided. We’re Asheville. We totally fucking rule, and everyone knows it. Right?
People I talk to here, in every walk of life, are heartbroken by the thought that Asheville might be seen as party to the conception and birthing of McCrory’s hateful turd-baby, and we’re almost desperate to convince the rest of the world that “we’re not like that!”
Please come to our city and pee in our toilets.
We don’ hate people. LGBTQ folks using the bathrooms of their choice? Yeah, Man, do whatever, because here in Asheville we really really really don’t give a flying fuck what gender anyone identifies as. It’s all good. “You do you and I’ll do me,” is practically our city motto, and we want the world to know that abuse of bathroom privileges by transgendered people is just simply not something that’s on our radar up here. We don’t even think about it because… well… actually… it’s not a fucking problem! This whole Bathroom Bill thingy is just a bunch of crazy, made-up, bullshit from Raleigh, and has not got one thing in the world to with us, the good, open-minded citizens of awesome little ol’ Asheville.
On April 27th, Ashvegas.com reported that the CVB released a video and a statement in an effort to counteract some of the backlash against HB2. The theme of both is that Asheville is a city that welcomes and embraces diversity and equality. Here’s an excerpt:
“We assure you that Asheville today is the same warm and welcoming community it was before this legislation. People from all walks of life have found their way here and have been met with the same embracing openness that entices them to stay.”
The entire statement is HERE, and it’s worth reading.
Mikey Creme Fraiche from Chai Pani / Buxton Hall / MG Road gave me my fave quote so far on the subject. I think he summed up the feelings of a lot of locals, including myself, when he texted me:
“…what a disaster of a law and an embarrassment. As a business we are super LGBT(Q) friendly… I mean shit we are LGBT(Q), half the staff is, but regardless this law is just a travesty and a disaster for North Carolina. Discrimination is never ever a good idea in any form. If anything, hopefully it will motivate people to take our state back from the cretins that have taken over the state government.”
Go Mikey! Go Mikey! Go! Go! Go! Go!
I love Mikey. He also wrote:
“I’d be curious to take a really close look at our numbers from last year and previous years and see if there was any measurable difference, but it doesn’t feel that way.”
Good! I’m glad to hear that! Likewise, when I told Chef William Dissen at The Market Place that I hoped the HB2 boycott wasn’t affecting them, he indicated that it is not, saying that they are “cranking along,” and adding, “I think most ppl feel Asheville is a safe haven for all walks…”
While we all certainly hope that’s the case, there is that black cloud of shrinkage… that 30%… The Numbers… I’ll check back in with Mikey and William to see if the good news continues for them. But in the meantime, it’s bad news for others…
The last time I checked, Dianna Pierce, who oversees group sales for the CVB, counted 16 events, meetings, and/or conferences that were already planned for, or were considering Asheville, but have been lost or cancelled as a direct result of HB2. Those events represent a total of 4,600 hotel room nights, and about $1,600,000.
This Ashvegas post, also from April 27, 2016 has more stats, quotes, statements, and a video from the CVB:
The CVB’s Numbers pertain only to hotels, not restaurants or food vendors, and I’m fucking terrible at math, but I’m gussing that 4,600 hotel nights equals at least 4,600 potential dinners out, and upwards of 13,800 potential breakfasts, lunches, and dinners at downtown cafes, restaurants, and food carts. Like I said, stats ain’t my thing, but…
Let’s just say that the average cost of a meal in downtown Asheville, including tip and one beverage is between $15 – $25. I’m pulling that number straight out of my ass, but I think it’s pretty accurate. So, [beep boop beep] $20 X 13,800 meals = $276,000 in potential income that could have been in our pockets, but might not be, because of Governor McCrory’s foul hate-turd. Fuck!
The idea of not earning future money that we thought we might be able to earn, because some bunch of assholes in some other city did something that we totally disagree with, and pissed-off a bunch of other people who also disagree with it, but now those good people are lumping us in with the assholes that did the offensive thing that we all disagree with, is just annoying as FUCK!
I understand why people are boycotting NC, and I can admit that if SC had passed HB2, I’d be boycotting the fuck out of those turkeys, and I don’t think I’d be picking and choosing this or that other little city or town to exempt from my boycott just because they’s cool. No. I’d probably be like, “Whatever, Cool Little City, it’s gotta be bad for you too, or the Boycott won’t work.” I’d be a total dick about, so what can I expect from the rest of the world?
But how bad is it gonna get for us? Is Chef Dissen’s optimistic estimation of the country’s understanding that Asheville is different going to bare out and see us through? I mean, how shitty is this turd, and can we make it on our own if we have to?!? Anxiety.
During the April 3rd podcast of AVL Food Fans, Chef Joe Scully (Chestnut, Corner Kitchen, Corner Kitchen Catering), Lucy Murphy (Asheville Independent Restaurant Association), and I talked about HB2, and Joe had this to say:
“I follow my numbers minute to minute, I’m totally obsessed… and I can see — about 4 days after HB2 — this drop. Now, one of the things we think about in this wonderful capitalist society of ours is we think about progressing business, and if your business isn’t growing, you notice it, and if you have a business that’s 12 1/2 years old, which [Corner Kitchen] is, and I’m posting double-digit increases in my 13th year, and suddenly [there’s a nation-wide boycott and] I drop below last year’s sales…”
Joe clearly blames HB2 for the drop in his Numbers, and he went on to say that his friend Chef Michel Baudouin from Creperie Bouchon gave him permission to report that he is also observing a similar drop in Les Nombres, but Joe’s not in panic mode just yet. He told our audience that…
“Places like Corner Kitchen, places like Bouchon, places like Table, we all have regulars, people that come to us, that spread the love, and that’s great, so there’s a baseline, we’re not going to completely lose it.”
That is true for many of the venues in Asheville. Despite the impression that we’ve “turned into a tourist town,” when I moved here 11 years ago, most of the restaurants downtown either closed up or severely cut their hours right after “leaf-peeper” season, for the Winter months. Now, the smart venues are open all year long, and are supported largely by locals during the “off season,” who take advantage of the fact that the streets aren’t crammed with hordes of well-meaning but admittedly annoying visitors, and there are seats available at our fave places to eat.
On the podcast, I asked Joe if he agreed that some locals actually avoid downtown during the ‘tourist season,’ and he did, so I want to encourage you all to consider that this year the local venues need local support more than ever. If you typically feel like the tourism crush is too much for you to bare, let me tell you, I spend a lot of time downtown, and my own observation is that there seem to be about 30% fewer human bodies occupying the space between I-240, South French Broad Ave, The South Slope, and the tunnel. Dawn and I walked into one of the most popular places in town recently without reservations, and were offered a table, or seats at the bar. Yikes. Sure it was a Tuesday, but it was also prime-time, and typically, we wouldn’t even bother trying at this particular place. Too busy all Summer. Well, maybe not this Summer.
Here’s my message to Asheville eaters…
Please go downtown and show the food vendors some local love. They need ya. Some of us tend to think we live in a bubble up here in Asheville, and that the outrageous BS that those Republican goofballs in Raleigh get up to has zero effect on us, but that’s just not the case. HB2 and the ensuing boycott really are having a negative effect on the Asheville Food Scene, across the board, so we gotta do what we always do, which is to make do with what we’ve got, and what we’ve got is each other. Love thy neighbor, Yo. By eating a cheeseburger downtown. Win / win.
Here’s my message to the rest of the world…
All kidding aside, Asheville really is one of the most loving and accepting cities in the country, if not the entire world. You could stick an “AVL” on the end of “LGBTQ” and that would totally work for us. We fuckin’ love ya, World, please don’t stop loving us. Oh! But y’know who doesn’t love us so much? Those mean ol’ Republicans in Raleigh. True story. Asheville has been a thorn in their side for decades. We irritate them to no end with our open-mindedness and our insistence on good public education (plus they wanna privatize out water supply and dump poisonous coal ash in our rivers, yadda yadda) so if you wanna really piss off the fuck-nuts who crafted this complete turd of a bill, please drop them a note that says, “We’re boycotting NC… except for Asheville.”
Here’s my message to Governor Pat McCrory…
Why is it, when we say “LGBTQ,” you hear “perverts, rapists, and child molesters?” What the fuck is wrong with you, Man? Get out of office, get into therapy, and ask yourself some deep, serious questions about who you are and why you do the things you do, and for fuck sake, leave Asheville out of your twisted plans. Jerk.
In the meantime, I guess it’s time for me put down the bong, get off my cloud, and get active. We gotta vote these fart-knockers in Raleigh out of Office. The Governor and the Lt. Governor are both supporting this atrocious and embarrassing HB2 thing. It’s gotta go. They gotta go.
If anyone reading this is still unconvinced that HB2 and the boycott could possibly have any effect the food scene here in Asheville, just go take a look at this glowing review of the pizza at All Souls Pizza from the New York Times, and then read the comments section.
Very few of the comments are about pizza.
— END —
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.