ELY – The Chamber of Commerce here notified their members and the Ely business community on Friday afternoon that all of their events are …
ELY – Ely’s largest tourist event, the annual Blueberry/Art Festival, planned for July 24-26, has been canceled, one of many events in the area shelved for the summer as residents and visitors continue to shelter in place out of an abundance of caution over the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe.
The Ely Chamber of Commerce notified their members and the Ely business community late last week that all of their events are canceled through the month of August due to caution over the coronavirus.
The Blueberry/Art Festival traditionally draws thousands of visitors to the area.
According a weekly business newsletter sent by email last Friday afternoon, and first reported by the Timberjay, Chamber Executive Director Eva Sebesta’s notice said, “We’ve watched the Minnesota Department of Health news carefully for predictions of the COVID-19 peak. The Stay-at-Home orders have helped slow the spread of the virus, however, the predicted peak begins in late May and runs through late July. With this news in mind, we are compelled, for the sake of public health and safety, to cancel all Chamber events through August.”
“While the event cancellation announcement may appear premature, other communities are following suit and canceling events through August too,” Sebesta said on Monday. “For lodging facilities that are impacted, they will have the opportunity to fill vacancies, which is much more difficult to do only two to six weeks out from an event.”
Chamber officials continue to plan for the Harvest Moon Festival scheduled for Sept. 11-13, when “Minnesota will be a safer spot to have a large outdoor event,” she added. The Chamber is planning to create a virtual Blueberry/Art Festival and will launch it in mid-June.
“The Chamber recognizes the economic impact its events have on the business community,” Sebesta said. “For the Chamber, the Blueberry/Art Festival is the primary funding source for providing many other Chamber events as well as funding the Chamber’s efforts to market the business community and provide donations and sponsorships to a number of nonprofit organizations.”
Dave Sebesta, vice president of the Chamber’s board of directors, defended the decision in a Facebook post.
“To all those who have suggested that the decision by the Chamber of Commerce to cancel the Blueberry /Art Festival was some sort of ‘knee jerk’ or ‘asinine’ reaction, let me just say, the Blueberry Art Festival, for all intents and purpose, is the financial life blood of the (Chamber),” he wrote.
“It funds the Chamber but also helps to fund new events. It is the single most important event the Chamber does. Personally, I would consider this the hardest business decision I’ve ever had to make.”
David Sebesta described the decision process by the board.
“Our typical once- monthly 1.5-hour meeting consumed upwards of nine hours over three days to come to this decision,” he wrote.
Also in his Facebook post, David Sebesta revealed the recent loss of his stepfather and his companion to COVID-19.
“Many others have felt this heartache. To think that I, as a chamber board member, should be comfortable having tens of thousands of visitors from across the Midwest and beyond, including many ‘hot spots,’ congregated in Whiteside Park over a three-day weekend in July would be totally irresponsible.”
He continued, “One can only imagine the impact an outbreak would be to our aging local population and our limited resources. We may not know all the solutions but we sure the hell know the risks! We get it. This is a devastating economic situation. We have not only continued to monitor concerns in the Ely area but also across the state and region. In light of much gathered information from many reliable sources, the board reached this decision.”
In addition to the Blueberry/Art Festival, many Ely Chamber of Commerce events, meetings, and educational programs are canceled or rescheduled for this fall. The Chamber has also canceled the City Wide Rummage, Business Crazy Day and Used Watercraft and Equipment Sale, Tuesday Nite Live, Business Appreciation Day, and Music in the Park.
The Chamber’s Annual Board Meeting is rescheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 28, at the Grand Ely Lodge followed by the Celebrate Ely Business Networking Dinner.
Mayor Chuck Novak said no decision has yet been made concerning the city of Ely’s Fourth of July parade and celebration activities.
“We will take our lead from the Governor and the state’s stay-at-home order,” he said Tuesday. “We are walking carefully on this and will make any announcements when we have the information that we need.”
Likewise, ISD 696 Superintendent Erik Erie said Tuesday that he continues to monitor developments on the how the rest of the 2019-20 school year will be conducted through the Minnesota Department of Education.
“We are making contingency plans to finish out the year with distance learning, if needed, and considering options for graduation and school athletic events,” he said Tuesday.
Ely School Board members will convene remotely on Monday, April 27 for their regularly scheduled study session to discuss the school facility building project.
“At their May 11 meeting, the board is looking at approving a bonding referendum for voters to consider in August,” Erie said.
The Boundary Waters Blues Festival, slated for Labor Day weekend, has also been canceled, according to organizer Mike Jankovec. He made the announcement on the festival’s website.
“Due to the coronavirus outbreak we are unable to produce the 2020 Boundary Waters Blues Fest, our 20th anniversary event. This has been a difficult decision, but I can’t proceed with the booking process this far into the calendar year without being able to see the future and, potentially compromising the quality of the event. As things evolve, I will post updates about the future of this event.”
Babbitt’s annual community celebration, Peter Mitchell Fun Days, is also called off. According to a statement from the Peter Mitchell Fun Days Committee, “For the health and safety of the citizens of Babbitt and our volunteers and participants we have decided to cancel the 2020 Walleye Whamma and Peter Mitchell Fun Days.”
The Ely Farmers Market, with some adjustments, is still on track this summer, according to organizers.
“The state of Minnesota has equated farmers markets to grocery stores as far as being essential businesses,” according to the organization’s Facebook page. “That being said, we may have to make some adjustments to layout and practices of the market to accommodate for social distancing and other guidelines as laid out by the governor.”