Business Owners Boiling After Dîner en Blanc

More than 3,000 people enjoyed the fanciful, all-white Dîner en Blanc that shut down a portion of Broad Street Thursday night. But the French-inspired affair caused business owners in the area to boil over.

"We found out about this roughly around 6:15 [p.m.]"said Burnie Gaeta, general manager at Ruth's Chris Steak House. "We scrambled around to figure out valet parking, to notify guests that there is going to be a backlog."

The secretive event -- which reveals its public, outdoor location to ticket holders only moments before it begins -- was held on Broad Street between Chestnut and Pine streets from 7 p.m. until late Thursday night.

The busy Center City thoroughfare was closed to traffic throughout the duration of the meal, meaning detours forced drivers away from restaurants that line the Avenue of the Arts. And the large crowd caused many pedestrians to avoid the area too.

In previous years, Dîner en Blanc was held in Logan Square and along the bridge portion of John F. Kennedy Boulevard -- causing some traffic issues but no other problems.

After several business owners complained that Dîner en Blanc's diners caused customers to opt for other shops and restaurants Thursday, Councilman Jim Kenney sent a letter detailing the criticisms to Richard Negrin, the city's managing director.

"The business owners I have spoken with were not notified that this event would shut down this main artery," Kenney wrote, "and many restaurants took reservations, scheduled valet parking attendants, and otherwise planned normal operations, when in reality their options for accepting business were extremely limited..."

But Natanya DiBona, the co-host of Dîner en Blanc, said the necessary steps were taken to alert the area business owners the street would be closed.

"Some were personally contacted, some were letters," DiBona said.

Gaeta insists he never received a letter even though Negrin confirms the event organizers, the City of Philadelphia and the Avenue of the Arts district reached out 90 days in advance.

Despite the confusion, both Kenney and Gaeta welcome the return of Dîner en Blanc next year, although with some changes.

"I please ask that the impact on local businesses be given greater importance before the City signs off on an event," Kenney wrote.

Gaeta added, "Just next time, we hope there's more foresight."

DiBona, who met with many of the Broad Street business owners Friday, said she hopes to secure a location in 2015 that won't inconvenience so many.

The frost-colored fete came under fire earlier this summer after many foodies interested in buying tickets for the meal encountered an error-filled website. The frustration over the technical malfunction -- allegedly the third consecutive year it occurred -- led a group to launch their own event, Dîner en Noir.

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