Un-wreathed: City Market founders' kin kicked out
"My uncles, my grandfather, me sat out here on the Downtown Mall," says lifelong wreath-maker Sandy Cason, as he points out the boxwood, the tezzle, and the deer berry he collects to make his holiday creations at the farmer's market founded by his father and brothers. But he won't be there this year. He's been banned.
"They have a personal vendetta against me," declares Sandy Cason. "They don't like me because I'm boisterous."
Cason admits he told the assistant market manager to "go to hell" November 13 when discussing the fact that an anonymous jury had passed him over this season.
How did it happen that a scion of the Cason brothers–- George, Jack, Billy, and Sandy's father, Ezra, who founded the popular Charlottesville institution, the City Market–- came to be black-balled?
According to Cason, he first drew the wrath of City Market management in late October when he lambasted a woman driving the wrong way down one-way South Street.
"Do you always do stupid things like that?" he concedes he said when she pulled into the market's lot, and that remark led her to "cuss" him. Market manager Stephanie Anderegg-Maloy and her assistant, Lucy Lamm, asked what was going on; and Cason says he told them, "This is not market-related business; this is my business."
He notes that the confrontation took place at approximately 1:30pm, about an hour and a half after the market's noon closing on October 23. Yet that didn't stop Anderegg-Maloy and Lamm from ordering him off the public parking lot and then calling and sending a letter to his uncle, George Cason, saying the younger Cason's privileges were "being suspended indefinitely, effective immediately."
Sandy Cason says he didn't see the letter until November 15, and it has him perplexed for several reasons. First, he doesn't understand why a letter would go to his uncle if he's the one suspended. "I'm an adult here," he says.
George Cason holds a City Market permit, but both say Sandy is not an employee, that he was just helping his uncle out, as family members do.
The letter notes "numerous complaints regarding his behavior today, use of abusive and obscene language both to market staff and market customers." Cason finds that suspect too, given the market was already closed at the time of the contretemps. And he's further puzzled that no one mentioned anything to him about it for the next three Saturdays at the City Market when he helped out as usual even if secretly suspended.
"More than anything, I'm perturbed they banned me and didn't tell me," he says.
Meanwhile, Cason received a more recent letter saying he would not receive a reserved space at the Holiday Market. And the anonymous jury judging his wreath-making skills–- and impacting his livelihood–- irks him, too.
"I'm poor," says Cason. "I work hard. I'm struggling. I work seven days a week."
Cason alleges that City Market staffer Lamm would not unveil the anonymous jury that determined who gets the 87 reserved spaces.
"Staff members decided," says Charlottesville Parks and Recreation manager Brian Daly, whose office oversees the Markets. "We had so many applications this year," says Daly, noting over 125 vendors on a waiting list but declining further comment because Cason has threatened legal action.
According to city spokesman Ric Barrick, Cason's application was not juried because he did not submit the required photographs of his work.
Charlottesville resident Elena Day estimates that she's made wreaths for the Holiday Market for at least 15 years and was "flipped out" to learn that an anonymous jury determines who gets to sell and who doesn't.
"I have done the Holiday Market when no one went there," says Day. "I feel like [returning vendors] deserve to be in no matter what."
She believes the economic situation has contributed to the flood of applicants who want to be part of the Holiday Market. Day was chosen to return this year, but says, "I was really worried about it. I would have been feeling really bad because I've been here for so long."
"For 38 years, we've never had any problems like this," says founding brother George Cason, 79. "Sandy is so talented. His wreaths and flowers are some of the best in the country."
In 2004, George Cason and his brothers were the subjects of a Hook cover story about the seven brothers–- the "Fighting Casons"–- who fought in World War II. Apparently that tenacity is inherited.
"I'm not going to back down," says Sandy. "I'm stubborn. And I'm a Cason."