In an otherwise routine meeting, Buchanan Mayor Larry Hall and Town Council were chastised and threatened with a legal action by Francine Bray over Hall’s decision in January to stop a teen dance at Studio198, a part of Glo-A-Rama that is owned by Bray and her husband, Ken Bray.
The issue came up in February when Hall told council he had stopped the dance after he was called by the Sheriff’s Office. Hall said then the town ordinances prohibited teen dances of the kind structured by Studio 198.
The Brays posted a number of signs in the windows of their building on Main Street accusing the town of destroying the business and of discriminating against the business owners and shutting down a teen dance that was going to be produced by Ziggy’s Club 198, a part of Ziggy’s Entertainment 198 LLC.
In a prepared statement, Francine Bray said Studio 198 has operated for two years and hosted thousands of children at their dances. She said she didn’t understand how the town officials didn’t know about those dances since their business was told to take down a 16-foot sign a year ago that advertised the dances.
She said Studio 198 operates under a business license that didn’t require a dance permit because the dances were only a part of what the business does, and she accused the town officials of abusing their power.
She said after the dance was stopped, they asked for a copy of the code section that restricted dances and were not provided a copy; they asked for an exception for the one dance since stopping it was done just before the dance was scheduled, and they asked for a dance permit and it was denied.
“The mayor told WDBJ (television station) we didn’t meet the code because we didn’t have parental supervision (at the dance). How would you know?” she asked. “You’ve never attended.
“Closing Studio 198 is the final straw for me,” she continued, saying the town had used intimidating tactics and only wanted the business’ tax dollars. “You have caused us lack of business and violated our rights.”
Bray said she’s asked for the U.S. Justice Department, the Attorney General’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to look into the issue because they have been discriminated against.
She said they opened their business in Buchanan because they were told there was nothing for children to do in Botetourt. “But we’ve come to the see you prefer kids loitering at Burger King, or sitting in their cars doing who knows what,” she said. “Wouldn’t it have been better to work with us rather than to shut us down?”
Hall said because of the threat of litigation, he was advised by the town attorney to not speak about the matter.
He did say, though, that he’d received notice from the Sheriff’s Office about the dance, and it did not meet the requirements for a dance permit under the town code. “It’s my obligation to follow the code,” Hall said, adding that “19-year-olds and 14-year-olds don’t mix together.”
Council member Mike Burton stepped down from his council seat and said he was responding as a citizen and not a councilman.
He said he was “appalled” by the negative gossip in the community about how council operated, and he said he was “infuriated” by the most recent written notice on the Glo-A-Rama windows and the picture implying there are people trying to make Buchanan a ghost town.
“It’s a smear that says we’ve interfered with business in this town and it’s not true,” Burton said. “We’ve followed the law.
“Look at what we’ve done,” he continued. He said the town is fixing the water system that will help businesses for 30 to 40 years; the town’s upgrading the riverside park to make it an attraction to draw people to Buchanan; the town’s worked to reorganize and upgrade the carnival grounds to draw visitors to town, and town employees have worked with special events volunteers to draw thousands of people to the town.
He paraphrased the late President John Kennedy’s challenge, “Ask not what Buchanan can do for you, but ask what you can do for Buchanan” when he asked residents to do four things:
• If you hear something negative, don’t believe until you’ve checked it out.
• Shop in Buchanan and buy here.
• If you have ideas of how we can run things better, don’t keep it to yourself.
• Seek ways to help Buchanan; there are many organizations that can use your help as a volunteer.
Resident Joe Ryder said residents who are happy with Buchanan don’t speak out and they should. He told the Brays, “I feel for you,” and said Buchanan “is probably not the place for you.”
He tried to address the sign the Brays posted on their building listing businesses that had closed, but Hall stopped the discussion when a back-and-forth evolved between Ryder and the Brays.