STUART, Fla. - Elaine Weisse owns a Stuart business, "Desserts by Elaine," through which she sells baked goods like cookies and brownies.
In her years of promoting her business, she has been to many festivals to sell her baked goods.
But she said this weekend's Treasure Coast Music & Beer Festival, held at the Martin County Fairgrounds, fell far short of what she and other vendors had been promised.
"It was the worst event I've ever done since starting my business," she said. "I believe it was a huge scam.
She said the event coordinator, Larry Burdgick, lured her $600 vendor fee by promising her several times that thousands of people would attend.
"To be told that there were 7,000 pre-sold tickets, and there weren't even 70 people that showed up for all three days," said Weisse.
Andrew Webster is a t-shirt vendor who had a special shirt made just for the festival.
He said he lost more than $800 by participating in the event that did not live up to its advertising.
"Noone was coming, we set up for nothing on Friday," he recalled. "Saturday, we found out that there were only two or three bands, and we were expecting there to be ten bands. Three stages? There was only one stage set up."
Webster said he began snapping photos the final day to prove the so-called "music and beer festival" had empty beer tents and an empty music stage.
"There was no beer set up. There was no music set up," said Webster. "Me and a couple of the other vendors, we took pictures to show that not only was there nobody there, there was no beer."
Festival coordinator Larry Burdgick denies telling the vendors that he pre-sold any tickets, even though at least six vendors claim he told them either 7,000 or 10,000 people would attend.
"That is not true," said Burdgick. "I've been doing shows for ten years, and I know better than to tell people a specific number."
"Besides that, every vendor signed an application that said rain or shine, there are no refunds," he added.
Burdgick attributes the low turnout to Saturday's bad weather. Monday, he sent the vendors an email offering each one a free booth in his next festival, which is the Nautical Flea Market and Seafood Festival in November.
Another vendor, Melissa Daniels of Ko Tao Culture Women's and Men's Clothing based out of Miami, said the whole festival was a complete waste.
"We were all mislead, cheated and in many cases, flat-out lied to," said Daniels. "We all believed this event was legit, and after experiencing this awful weekend, we know we were taken advantage of."
Daniels provided a copy of an email she sent to Burdgick, which stated the following:
"You violated our contract and stole hundreds of dollars from me and thousands from everyone. You owe me back my $350.00. Please send me a cashiers check in the amount of $350.00 refunding my vendor fee as soon as possible, or I promise further legal action will take place."
Weisse said she's teamed up with the other 26 vendors to sign a petition to submit a business complaint and to file a refund request for breach of contracts. In the meantime, she said, it has been a costly lesson.
"That company's not even registered with the Better Business Bureau," she explained. "That just kind of opens my eyes, so when I do next events, to investigate further."
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