By Libby Rosequist
The North East Area Chamber of Commerce board has decided to cancel the 39th annual WineFest, scheduled for Sept. 25 to 27, due to the restrictions and guidelines laid out by Gov. Tom Wolf’s color-coded phases of a reopening plan.
Even under the green phase of reopening, the state requires that “large recreational gatherings remain restricted.”
In addition to this uncertainty regarding gathering restrictions, some other factors that weighed in on the decision dealt with food vendor licensing and participation, logistics with preparations, entertainment participation, volunteer participation and the strain on the local economy.
“The decision was made after much consideration and with the best interest of our community at heart,” Holly Ferruggia, executive director of the NEACC said. “Our wineries, vendors, community volunteers, and staff are our top priority going into this festival, and as much as we would like to return to normal, we cannot put those people at risk.”
In addition to all of these factors, the NEACC cannot ask its generous sponsors to give during a financially trying time for all small businesses. Meeting the needs of members is important, and it is understood that sponsorship dollars are not as easy to procure in times such as these.
“Even though WineFest will not be rescheduled for later in 2020, we plan to have everything in place for its return in 2021 for the 40th anniversary of the festival,” Ferruggia said.
Instead of letting the disappointment of missing out on WineFest stop the community from spending, Ferruggia urges community members to use this as an opportunity to find different ways to give back to small businesses.
“We understand that losing WineFest this year can be mentally and financially stressful for businesses because they count on that revenue to get through the winter lull,” Ferruggia said. “But this is a chance to turn this obstacle into a positive by using the money community members had planned for WineFest to donate to a nonprofit, or continue to shop locally to keep the funds going back into the community.”
If Erie County receives the go ahead to enter the green phase before September, there may be other options for the community to visit wineries individually.
“As of right now our wineries offer curbside pickup and are accepting online orders,” Ferruggia said. “If we see Erie enter the green phase by September hopefully we can work with the wineries to keep the gatherings limited and follow the safety guidelines. We are not sure what the future will look like but we are choosing to stay positive and we know North East will get through this bigger and better.”