During the Borough of Bath Council meeting on Monday, April 5, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and several borough business owners presented their case for moving forward with Spuds and Suds in 2021. The popular event was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in March of this year, council voted to pause all planning, thus indicating that the event would be postponed for a second year until the pandemic passes.
During April’s meeting, the Chamber returned and maintained that they could hold an event that wasn’t only fun, but safe. However, a majority of council still believed it was “too soon” to plan such a large-scale event. In a re-vote, they rejected a motion to continue planning with five against planning and two in favor of.
“Four school districts have canceled classes because of COVID cases,” said Councilman Barry Fenstermaker. “I do not know where people think this thing is getting better. I see it getting worse.”
“Epidemiologists say there is going to be a third and fourth wave,” he continued. “Those strains are coming [and] I’m worried.”
Before the deciding vote, Terry DeGroot, Co-Chair of the Spuds and Suds committee, presented a new festival plan that would expand the event’s area by 60 percent. The event would take up more space, but be smaller in scope, allowing musicians, vendors, and attendees to spread out. He added that hand washing stations and restrooms would be available, along with PPE. Omega Security would also be present to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing. The Chamber has relied on this security company at their other events in Nazareth, Northampton, and Catasauqua.
DeGroot even went as far as to suggest that the event could be moved out of the borough altogether. The Chamber had recently approached East Allen Township, he said. But while the neighboring township could serve as a possible host, “we want to have the event and want to have it in Bath.”
Several borough business owners were also present and asked council to reconsider, afraid that losing the event this year could mean losing it for good.
Kevin Lewis, owner of Caravan Cigar Company, said that the business got its start in the borough thanks to Spuds and Suds and relies on the event’s regular customers who may not usually stop by the store at other points in the year.
“This [event] really gives them the opportunity to experience Bath as a whole,” he said.
He added that his business struggled without the profits from Spuds and Suds. The owners of Mattie’s Strudel Haus and Red Wolf Bar & Grille also echoed his sentiments, adding that the event would be a morale boost for business owners and residents alike.
Bobby Siegfried, a Bath resident who has helped plan the event since its inception, said he usually errs on the side of science and caution but believes an outdoor event is safe. He added that the smaller event would give more attention to local musicians and that a ticketing system could even be put into place to ensure no one area becomes too crowded.
Not all residents, however, were in favor of moving forward with the event. Jimmy Pasquariello, President of the Bath Social Hall, was one of them who spoke out. It was earlier in March that the social hall hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
“It was a lovely thing,” he told council, thanking Mayor Fiorella Mirabito for her work in planning the clinic. “Seeing people with tears in their eyes, welling up, knowing they’re going to make it because they got a shot.”
“[But] to have this event in your town is alarming to me,” he continued. “Only because you did such a great job of protecting your citizens.”
He added that he speaks as someone who has been trying to safely plan events for the past year and “it is impossible.”
When it came time for a vote, council agreed with Pasquariello.
Councilmembers Fenstermaker, Michele Ehrgott, Phyllis Andrews, Tony Kovalovsky, and Frank Hesch voted once again to cancel planning. Councilmembers Mark Saginario and Carol Bear-Heckman voted to continue. The case numbers, proclaimed Bear-Heckman, are headed in the right direction, and should not warrant cancellation so soon.
“Despite a disappointing outcome, we are looking forward to planning more events in the future that are safe and that spotlight our wonderful small business community!” says Jessica O’Donnell, EVP Affiliated Chambers of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Although this debate had two starkly opposing sides, President Saginario thanked everyone for their respect toward each other. And one thing was certain, at least in the mind of one councilmember who voted to cancel planning for this year: Regardless of whether a similar event is held in a neighboring township, it will never be Spuds and Suds.
“This is a Bath event…Spuds and Suds stays in Bath. That is where it started and that is where it stays,” said Councilman Fenstermaker.
Like Fenstermaker, Mayor Mirabito asks that the event remain in the Borough.
“I am incredibly saddened that Spuds will not happen again this year…and, hope the Greater Bath Area Chamber/Lehigh Valley Chamber will respect my request to keep it in the Borough of Bath- where it was founded. I pray this nightmare we are all living in will be behind us and we can make Spuds and Suds 2022 even bigger and better,” said Mirabito.