NEW BETHLEHEM – The Summer of Social Distancing witnessed several more annual events scrapped from the local calendar last week, as Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce officials struggled to find ways to continue holding some of the group’s popular events.
At their meeting on Thursday, chamber board members, having already canceled the Nutty Wine, Shine and Brew Fest in early May, agreed to indefinitely postpone the annual membership dinner, and to call off the community-wide yard sales and Customer Appreciation Day, both June events.
And while the July 3 fireworks show will go on as planned for Independence Day, the pre-fireworks concert and community gathering in the Gumtown Park/Water Street area will be canceled.
“We’ve gotta have fireworks,” chamber president Ryan Wells said. Officials said that while the fireworks will light up the night above New Bethlehem, spectators will be asked to view the show from all around town, rather than congregating in one place. No food vendors will be on hand, and the borough will be asked to close off Water Street in an attempt to keep people socially distanced.
One piece of bright news at the meeting came as member Gordon Barrows announced that an “entity” that he could not yet name, had stepped forward to fund the entire fireworks display.
The chamber’s cancelations did not extend to the group’s signature event, the Peanut Butter Festival in September. Yet.
With much of the planning for the festival needed to take place now, and with the prospect of finding enough sponsors to support the festival iffy, officials said they were not sure how they could host a three-day festival — even if allowed to do so by the state.
Member Amanda Coon noted that people are scared right now, and questioned if the festival would even attract any vendors or visitors this year. She also said that under the current economic conditions, it would be in poor taste for the chamber to solicit for sponsorship donations.
Coon also pointed out that this year’s festival would have celebrated its 25th year — a milestone that could be celebrated in 2021 if this year’s event is called off.
“I want the town to have something to look forward to, but I just don’t know,” Coon said, noting that under proposed state guidelines, it doesn’t look like festivals will even be permitted under the “green” phase due to social distancing recommendations.
Members also said they did not want the chamber to come out in favor of events that were not in the best interests of the community.
“It’s not that we don’t care about our community, we care too much,” member Mary Benton said.
While it seemed as if those at the meeting were ready to cancel the festival, they agreed to wait until the June meeting to determine if it still can be held.
“June is the absolute latest to pull the plug,” Coon said.
Wells noted that even if the festival is held, it would likely be scaled back as some events that involve large crowds could not take place.
As for the chamber’s annual awards, which are typically presented at the membership dinner in March which was indefinitely postponed, members suggested that if there is a festival, the awards could be presented on the stage on Friday night.
In other business, the group announced board member election results, with Gordon Barrows, Ryan Wells, Tim Murray and Ty Poster elected to the board. The group decided to maintain the same officers until a proper membership meeting can be held.