Editor’s note: The following story includes a paragraph with very similar language to a report from The Seattle Times. We have concluded this is a violation of our ethics standards. We apologize to The Seattle Times and our readers.
A Seattle ticket agency that pocketed millions of dollars for 2020 events in Idaho and elsewhere that were later canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic has agreed to issue refunds.
Brown Paper Tickets reached a settlement with the Washington Attorney General’s Office, agreeing to refund $9 million in restitution to an estimated 45,000 customers.
Two Idaho groups — the Idaho Wine Commission and the Idaho Chukkar Foundation — are among those that lost money.
Brown Paper Tickets failed to refund money paid by 107 people who bought tickets to the 12th annual Savor Idaho, sponsored by the wine commission. The event was to be held on June 14 at the Idaho Botanical Garden. It was postponed to Aug. 2 before being canceled in mid-May.
“We hope this agreement will successfully recover all outstanding ticket funds for Idaho wine supporters,” Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, said by email.
Brown Paper Tickets has not responded to regular inquiries from the wine commission, including this week, commission spokesperson Natalie Hickman said.
The company initially provided refunds of $73.14 per ticket to 400 people one day in August, then gave refunds to a dozen additional people, then stopped as its financial woes mounted.
The chukkar foundation, which provides training for hunting dogs, lost $6,700 on a training session at a Boise park in June. Brown Paper Tickets collected money from participants but didn’t turn over the proceeds. The foundation uses the money for habitat improvement and public awareness on issues affecting the conservation, preservation and sustainability of Idaho’s upland bird populations.
The company also failed to provide $4,000 in refunds for 50 dog owners who paid for another training session that was canceled, Drew Wahlin, the group’s president, said in an email. That training, in May, could not take place after the Boise Parks and Recreation Department suspended park events because of the pandemic.
Wahlin said in an email he paid $3,000 of his own money in up-front costs for the workshops. In the three years he had used the service, there had never been a problem, Wahlin said.
“I am sure Brown Paper Tickets made some decisions they wished they hadn’t; the pandemic put all of us in a very vulnerable situation,” Wahlin said. “In the process, we lost all of our funding for wildlife habitat conservation projects and our nonprofit operating expenses for 2020-21.”
He’s skeptical the company has the money to make the refunds.
“I don’t think we will ever receive any of our 2020 funds from Brown Paper Tickets,” he said.
Since then, the commission has not provided refunds, instead waiting to see if Brown Paper Tickets will return the money. If that doesn’t happen, the wine commission says tickets for the 2020 Savor Idaho will be honored at the commission’s 2022 wine festival. Because of the ongoing pandemic, Savor Idaho will not be held this year.
“To me, Savor Idaho has just passed the buck the whole time,” Meridian resident Drew Lobner said by email. “They haven’t really cared about any of us who haven’t gotten refunds.”
Lobner heads a meetup group with 10 members who paid to attend Savor Idaho. None received a refund.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office filed a consent decree Monday in King County Superior Court. It came five months after the office sued Brown Paper Tickets on behalf of consumers.
Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for the Washington Attorney General’s Office, said in an email to the Statesman that Brown Paper Tickets must provide full refunds to those who bought tickets and money owed to event organizers.
“We don’t have a list of all organizers owed refunds, but if the (Idaho Wine Commission and the Idaho Chukkar Foundation) are owed refunds, they will be entitled to them as a result of our case,” Aho wrote.
Founded in 2000, Brown Paper Tickets was once one of the Seattle area’s most popular ticket brokers for small- to mid-sized theaters and community organizations because of its lower service fees.
Brown Paper Tickets President William Jordan said in March 2020 that the company had lost control of its cash flow and had to shut down outgoing payments to everyone.
“We lost control over which payments were able to clear and which weren’t,” Jordan told the Seattle Times then. “And we managed to piss off everybody.”