BARRE — You can add the Barre Heritage Festival and Montpelier’s pre-Independence Day celebration to the awfully long list of COVID-19 casualties.
On Wednesday downtown organizations in central Vermont’s Twin Cities announced they have reluctantly pulled the plug on their signature summer events due to ongoing pandemic.
During a Wednesday morning meeting the board of the Barre Partnership decided to cancel its popular mid-summer festival, while scrapping plans for this year’s summer series of concerts in the park, and agreeing to re-tool and likely relocate the accompanying farmers’ market.
Board president Rich Morey, who also represents Ward 3 on the City Council, confirmed decisions he said essentially made themselves.
“We tried to hold out as long as we could,” he said. “We just couldn’t see a clear path forward.”
Morey said uncertainty about how the pandemic will play out and the likelihood that some form of social distancing guidelines will still be in force when the last weekend in July rolls around both contributed to the decision. So, he said, did the cancellation of other events – some that are actually part of Barre’s festival and others in nearby communities.
Add to that an economic downturn that has hit many local businesses hard – including some that are still shuttered – and Morey said even if the festival was possible from a public health perspective, paying for it would be a challenge.
According to Morey, the board wasn’t comfortable passing soliciting donations in challenging times to help pay for a festival that probably wouldn’t be allowed to occur in the way it typically does.
“The Heritage Festival is all about bringing people together and it’s not like we can have 10,000 people standing shoulder to shoulder downtown,” he said. “It’s not really feasible.”
Morey said decisions to cancel pre-Independence Day celebrations in Montpelier and Waterbury were discussed by his board and word that one of the Barre festival anchor events won’t be happening this year was also a consideration.
Even if the four-day festival had gone on the Barre Rotary Club had already canceled its annual pancake breakfast, which draws a crowd and kicks off the events busiest day.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed, but I don’t think we had any other choice,” he said.
Morey said the partnership is exploring other community activities and plans to salvage the fireworks display. The timing of the fireworks will likely be driven by decisions made in other communities. He said it is possible they could be moved up to the Fourth of July, but if there are conflicts the display will occur when it otherwise would have, on Saturday, July 25.
For many of the same reasons, Morey said this year’s summer series of concerts in the park has been canceled. He said concerns about social distancing and reaching out to possible sponsors made even an abbreviated version of that weekly Wednesday evening attraction untenable.
Morey said the partnership is hoping to salvage the weekly farmers’ market, which has been held in conjunction with the concerts in recent years. However, he said, with the city’s permission the venue will shift from Currier Park to the new Pearl Street pedestrian way.
Morey said the latter location is better-suited to meet social distancing guidelines and will allow the market to enforce the kind of one-way-in/one-way-out model now being used in Montpelier.
It also has the added advantage of being right in the heart of the city’s central business district.
“Any time you can get people into the downtown it’s always good for businesses,” Morey said.
The decision to cancel the Heritage Festival follows the partnership’s recent decision to postpone its first ever “Barre Home Brew Festival & Competition.” That event had been set for last Saturday, but has tentatively been rescheduled until Oct. 3.
The partnership is still planning to host a Women’s Health & Wellness Expo at the Barre Municipal Auditorium on Sept. 26.
The story was similar in the Capital City on Wednesday, where officials for Montpelier Alive publicly announced a decision that was openly discussed by city councilors in Barre Tuesday night.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, July 3, which is usually a huge day in Montpelier will be just another Friday this year.
After considering guidance from state and local officials the downtown organization decided to cancel this year’s edition of a celebration that has been named one the Green Mountain State’s top 10 summer events by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
Montpelier Alive Executive Director Dan Groberg announced the decision to cancel a day-long celebration that includes a food truck festival, a mile-long road race, a large parade, musical performances and a fireworks display.
“This was a heartbreaking decision to make,” Groberg said, noting the July 3 celebration routinely attracts 15,000 people to the State House lawn.
“We know how much our community loves to come together for this event,” he added. “This was not a decision we made lightly, but one that we needed to make to protect the health and safety of our neighbors. We can’t wait to celebrate together again in 2021.”
Groberg said Montpelier Alive plans to redirect some of the resources from the pre-Independence Day celebration that to bolster a fall event. He said there are tentative plans to expand Montpelier’s “Moonlight Madness” celebration in October – perhaps converting it into a weekend-long event.
Groberg said Montpelier Alive was grateful to sponsors who maintained their financial commitment to a celebration that was canceled for public health reasons. That list includes the National Life Group, VSECU, Community National Bank and Union Mutual – all platinum sponsors.