PROVIDENCE — More than 100 vendors who had damaged inventory and other losses during the rained-out final day of PVDFest in September are expected to get $500 to provide some relief, though not every small business that was affected will get a check.
The city’s signature arts and music festival was mired by controversy before it even started this year after a change of location and the elimination of the open-container, party-in-the-streets atmosphere that was a highlight of the festival in prior years.
But it was the weather that ultimately plagued the end of the three-day fest, with an afternoon lightning storm on Saturday and then a fully rained-out day on Sunday, when many vendors who had already set up for the day suffered significant damage to their products.
The reimbursement plan, which still requires final approval by the City Council, only includes the 118 craft vendors who were scheduled to sell their wares on Sunday, Sept. 10, not the food vendors who also experienced losses.
The contract approved by the Council Finance Committee this week calls for $500 checks, split evenly between the city and the state through Rhode Island Commerce, to compensate the craft vendors for “dramatic losses during the storm,” Cassandra Thomas, the city’s director of economic development, told the committee on Tuesday.
Thomas said the storm did not qualify for federal assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is why the state and city decided to help.
The total cost to the city is $29,500, and the state is contributing the other $29,500.
City officials had initially told the Globe there would be no reimbursements for the business losses, citing the vendor contracts.
Asked what changed, spokesperson Josh Estrella said Thursday: “In recognition of the important role these vendors play in our local economy, the city collaborated with Rhode Island Commerce to find funding that would provide relief to those vendors impacted by Sunday’s cancellation and the weather.”
Anthony Medeiros, a Cranston-based painter who estimates he lost $2,000 worth of framed art, stretched canvasses and prints during the rainstorm, said he is grateful to receive some reimbursement even if it won’t cover all his losses.
“I’m just happy someone’s doing something,” Medeiros told the Globe on Thursday. “If it’s a penny, that’s still my penny.”
Medeiros said he tried to salvage some of his artwork after the festival, but it was moldy and unsellable.
Matthew Touchette, the spokesperson for Rhode Island Commerce, said the state wanted to chip in because of the “role small vendors play in enriching our communities and bolstering our economy.”
“Vendors, who participate in events like PVDfest, not only enhance our state’s business landscape, but they also help attract visitors who contribute significantly to the prosperity of our local businesses; their presence is integral to making Rhode Island a vibrant place to live, work, and visit,” Touchette said.
The reimbursements will be disbursed by First Works, the festival’s producing partner. The list of vendors slated to receive money is on the change order to the First Works contract approved by the Finance Committee.
“The intent of these checks was to offset any losses craft vendors may have incurred from damaged products during the extensive rainfall on Sunday,” Estrella said when asked why food vendors were not included in the reimbursement program. “While the food trucks were in attendance throughout the weekend, many of these craft vendors were only in attendance on Sunday and needed to leave their tents during the shelter in place order.”
Jonathan Kirk, the co-owner of Masa Taqueria, pointed out that many food vendors had to throw away food on Sunday, and also lost money on food prep and employee wages.
While he opted not to even set up on Sunday due to the forecast, he said he missed out on thousands of dollars of expected sales during PVDFest, which was moved to a new location this year in the Innovation District near the Providence Pedestrian Bridge.
Kirk said he barely broke even on food sales during the weekend, and lost thousands of dollars in labor. While Sunday was fully cancelled, there was also a lightning storm on Saturday afternoon when the festival was briefly paused and many people went home. The event continued after the weather cleared up.
At the very least, Kirk argued the city could at least reimburse the vendor fees for the day that was cancelled.
“You can’t give us back that one day of vendor fees that we got rained out?” Kirk asked. He said he is unlikely to return to PVDFest next year.
Medeiros said he is also unlikely to return to PVDFest as a vendor as long as the outdoor festival is held “rain or shine.”
“A lot of stuff can’t get wet,” Medeiros said. “My art is too valuable.”