The Borough of Bath Council voted 4-2-1 on Monday, March 1, to halt planning for 2021’s Spuds & Suds festival, indicating that the event will most likely be canceled unless the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changes tides. Originally, council intended to vote in April as to whether or not to hold the event; however, with the public health situation not improving, some members already made up their minds.
“Although I appreciate all of the planning, I know there are a lot of us who are really leaning toward not having [the event] this year,” Councilwoman Michele Ehrgott told Chamber of Commerce representatives Terry Degroot and Jessica O’Donnell. “It is going to take time until everyone is vaccinated.”
Councilman Frank Hesch agreed. He explained that the event and ensuring its safety have been top of mind for him.
“I love the event,” he said. “It is just a shame with everything going on.”
Councilwoman Carol Bear-Heckman, however, was still in favor of continuing the planning.
“I think by August…we’ll be fine,” she said. “Call me an eternal optimist.”
She added that all of the borough’s business owners she’s spoken with expressed their support for the event.
O’Donnell echoed Bear-Heckman’s sentiments. “Your businesses have reached out to us asking for sponsorships…because this event supports them.”
She added that the Northampton Uptown Street Fair scheduled for this spring has 75 vendors planned. She anticipates similar excitement for Spuds & Suds and said safety measures like hand sanitizer, grab-and-go meals, and shortened event hours could help keep crowds not only socially distant but smaller.
Yet council members said the new variants pose dangers not yet fully known.
“With all of these new variants that are out, who knows what it will be like in August?” said Councilman Barry Fenstermaker. “It could be worse than what we are thinking.”
“What if there is a crowd of 400 people and there are 25 people…who contracted COVID?” Fenstermaker continued. “That is going to look bad.”
However, Councilwoman Bear-Heckman said it should be left up to the public to decide as to whether or not they attend.
“[People] do not have to attend if they are concerned about the virus,” she said. “It is not like we are forcing people to attend.”
“How do you protect the general public thinking like that?” countered Councilman Tony Kovalovsky.
Councilwoman Erghott made a motion to cancel planning for Spuds & Suds, which was seconded by Fenstermaker. Ultimately Erghott, Fenstermaker, Hesch, and Kovalovsky voted in favor of the motion. Bear-Heckman and Council President Mark Saginario voted against. Councilwoman Phyllis Andrews was undecided.
Following the vote, Mayor Fiorella Mirabito voiced her disagreement. “I understand it is up to council to make the decision, [but] have we consulted or spoken to any businesses in Bath?”
Planning should have continued, she said, adding that the Chamber needs time to confirm bands, sponsors, and other participants. Her family restaurant, My Place Pizza, already confirmed sponsorship of the event.
President Saginario told the Chamber to come back to the April meeting with any information that may change council’s vote. If the facts change, he said, council would be willing to reconsider.
Spuds & Suds was not the only event canceled due to the pandemic. Bath Community Days, held by the borough’s fire department, was also canceled for 2021.
During the announcement, Kovalovsky said it would be difficult to enforce social distancing and that the fire department did not want to ask already struggling businesses for sponsorships. The department hopes that the event can make a return in 2022.
“Next year will hopefully be a better year than this year has started out as,” he said. “We are thinking of community safety first.”