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Entertainment director urges chamber to ‘bring our BBQ back’

Peter Eisenbrown, the entertainment director for the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival for the past 14 years, is urging the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce to reconsider its decision to end the festival.
Eisenbrown sent a letter to the chamber board asking them to “bring our barbecue back!”
He says he was stunned to learn of the chambers decision this week to stop holding the festival, and he wasnt aware that “cancellation was even on the table.”
The chamber board unanimously approved the decision in a vote on Tuesday. Chamber president Andy Millard said members of the chamber and the festival steering committee concluded the festival does not generate enough profit to justify the time it takes to host the event. Chamber leaders said they believe the organizations time and resources are better spent on multiple, smaller fundraising events that present less risk and greater profit potential.
Eisenbrown said the barbecue festival is a successful and important event for Polk County, and the community should not let it go.
“It is well run, physically. It gets tens of thousand in attendance. And it is gaining every year in national recognition,” said Eisenbrown. “Do you know what other festivals would give for the success weve built here? It feels very wrong for our community to walk away with nothing to show for it.”
Eisenbrown appears to be one of many people in the community with concerns about the chamber’s decision to stop the festival (see letters page 10 of Monday’s Bulletin). Other residents also have said they would like the chamber to reconsider or they would like to see another organization help keep the festival going.
Larry Swartz says he supports Eisenbrown’s letter and he also believes the barbecue festival “can still be a viable and important part of our community.”
“As important as this festival has been economically to the county and as much effort that many of us have put into the festival, I would have expected the chamber to be more forthcoming and would have involved more of the community in deliberations before ‘pulling the plug’ on a festival that many communities are envious to have.”
Both Swartz and Eisenbrown say people who want to see the festival continue should contact the chamber and ask board members to immediately reconsider their decision.
Eisenbrown says he believes “there is a lot of fat that can be trimmed from the operation” to improve the profit from the festival.
“If the problem is that the event is too big for the chamber to run with volunteers alone or the liability is too great, those issues can be solved,” says Eisenbrown. “The chamber could partner with other non-profits or hire a private firm to run it turnkey, sell the event, or any number of things could be explored. This event has real value. We worked hard to earn that value. It should not simply be tossed in the trash.”
In his letter to the chamber board, Eisenbrown proposes a joint meeting between chamber board members, the barbecue festival steering committee, representatives from Tryon and Columbus, and representatives from tourism and economic development in Polk County.
He says they could meet to reorganize the festival and “put on an event in 2010 that brings the strong returns we want.”