Autumn Fest chairman admits market-fixing

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Arrowtown’s one-eyed Autumn Festival chairman cheerfully admits to market-fixing at last Saturday’s Market Day.

Lex Perkins, also a Queens­town Lakes District councillor, confirms he barred between 10 and 20 out-of-town traders to reduce competition for local stallholders.

If a local had already made a booking in one product category, out-of-town traders subsequently applying for a stall to sell similar products were turned away.

“Yes, that’d be a yes to that, yes,” Perkins says. “That’s basically the principle.”

The admission comes after two garden nursery owners, from Canterbury and North Otago, had their booking rejected and their stall cheque returned.

Christchurch nursery owner Gavin Gardiner tells Mountain Scene he and his mate have had an Autumn Festival stall for seven years and did very well out of it.

“We have a good set-up and a big range of plants,” Gardiner says, claiming they’ve lost about $5000 turnover by being shut out of the one-day Arrowtown market.

“Both of us are a bit annoyed about it,” he says. “It’s protection for a local nursery.”

Perkins confirms the Canterbury duo was banished because the local Shotover Garden Centre had already booked the one garden-shop area available.

Perkins says the local-preference policy is all his doing, not that of the Autumn Festival committee he chairs.

“No one does any of the market day except me,” he says. “It’s my thing, I do that.”

There was an absolute influx of out-of-town traders wanting stalls “because of the recession”, Perkins reckons.

“Spaces were taken very quick this year.”

When all 120 stall spaces were booked – at $50 a pop – he had to turn away another 50 or 60 traders, Perkins estimates.

Sales boomed, he adds: “Stallholders did very, very well this year.”