CHESHIRE — The Chamber of Commerce decided Thursday morning to cancel this year’s Fall Festival.
Yetta Augur, chamber president, said in a statement, “It is with concern for our community that the Cheshire Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors have decided to cancel the Fall Festival for 2020.”
She said the board is considering a fireworks show instead on the evening of Sept. 12, depending on state regulations at that time.
The festival has only been cancelled once before in 32 years due to weather. It is the latest large local event to be called off due to ongoing COVID-19 public health concerns.
Last month organizers of the Southington Apple Harvest Festival, held each October, announced the 2020 event would be cancelled.
Auger, in an email, stated the Fall Festival typically draws around 5,000 people each year. Hundreds of businesses and non-profit organizations have typically participated.
Chamber leaders are still hoping to plan other ways to spotlight local businesses and non-profits this fall.
Town Council Chairman Rob Oris Jr. described the festival as the “one big event that we can celebrate community.”
“But, with the uncertainty of the COVID situation we want to err on the side of being conservative,” Oris said. “The good news is, we're still going to be working on a fireworks display... obviously it will be a smaller event. It will be done appropriately. At least at the moment, we're still going to be able to do fireworks.”
Town Councilor Sylvia Nichols recalled the early years of the Fall Festival, when it bore more resemblance to a flea market, held behind Cheshire Academy.
“It has grown exponentially,” said Nichols, a past president of the Chamber of Commerce. “It's still a great community thing.”
She said it's something that she and many town Cheshire residents had come to look forward to each year. But she also shared chamber leaders' concerns about public health and the pandemic.
“I think it's sad,” Nichols said. “We're all looking for an opportunity to get together.”
Jim Jinks, a fellow town councilor and founder of Bike Cheshire, expressed similar disappointment.
“Obviously everyone understands why it's been cancelled,” Jinks said, adding, “it's a shame for the organizations and businesses that use the festival to engage with customers.”
For example Bike Cheshire in recent years had run a bike valet that coincided with the festival to promote biking and provide easier travel and parking for attendees.
Town Councilor David Veleber, when asked about his favorite parts of the festival, said it isn't just one specific thing.
“I think the whole event was just good. Getting out and having the opportunity to see the community, and what a wonderful community and business community that Cheshire is,” Veleber said.
Local businesses have come to look forward to the event, for example Blackie's Hot Dog Stand, which has been a mainstay of the festival since it began.
Rick Flavin, whose family owns Blackie's, estimated the business has handed out thousands of hot dogs to festivalgoers over the past few decades.
Flavin and others understand festival organizers' decision.
“You have to do it.... it is disappointing,” he said.
Flavin is hopeful that Blackie's may still be able to join if fireworks continue as planned, and vendors are able to participate, albeit in significantly limited fashion.
Don Walsh, a town councilor and founder of Cheshire Lights of Hope, is a long time participant in the festival, which he described as wonderful.
“I think the chamber has always done a wonderful job,” Walsh said, with an eye toward resuming the fall festival and similar events in 2021.
“We're hoping we can get through this pandemic and hopefully 2020 will be in our rearview mirror,” Walsh said.