OGDEN — A slew of traditional downtown Ogden events and activities have been lopped off the calendar, more casualties of COVID-19.
The Downtown Ogden Alliance has decided to cancel this year’s installments of the Historic 25th Street Car Show, Harvest Moon Celebration, Witchstock and the Peculiar Pours beer festival, marquee events that usually draw big crowds to the city center. “Unfortunately due to COVID-19 restrictions we are unable to effectively (and responsibly) program these events in 2020,” the Alliance said in a statement announcing the news.
They join a long list of traditional events and activities that have been put off across Weber County and the rest of the country this year as officials contend with COVID-19 and take steps aimed at preventing its spread. Worries about the coronavirus also prompted officials to cancel this year’s installments of Ogden Pioneer Days, the Ogden Twilight music series and the Ogden Marathon, among other events.
“It’s heartbreaking to do,” said Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell.
Being safe and taking steps to help keep COVID-19 in check, though, took priority. The car show, Harvest Moon Celebration and Witchstock typically entail closing off part of Historic 25th Street and opening it to meandering crowds of pedestrians. “We understand what’s most important. That’s keeping people safe,” Caldwell said.
On a positive note, the alliance, tasked with bolstering downtown businesses via cultural and arts offerings, said it will host “smaller pop-up events” through the rest of 2020 to aid local businesses, musicians and nonprofit groups. The statement didn’t provide additional details and a rep from the group couldn’t immediately be reached for comment for more information.
“As a community, we need to recommit to intentional support of our downtown businesses during this time,” the group’s statement read, underscoring the import of downtown activities to the livelihood of businesses in the area.
The Historic 25th Street Car Show was actually held in June last year, and officials put off a final decision about whether it would occur this year until now. The Harvest Moon Celebration, meant as a goodbye to summer and hello to fall, was held on Sept. 21 last year and Witchstock, a Halloween-themed celebration that includes the Zombie Crawl, was held on Oct. 26. Peculiar Pours, held at Union Station on Oct. 12 last year, is geared to beer enthusiasts and features different craft beers made by area and regional brewers.
On Facebook, the alliance cited worries about “the health and well-being of our community members, vendors, staff and event attendees” in the decision to cancel the events. The group, which organizes the Farmers Market Ogden street fair each Saturday in downtown Ogden, has kept that activity up and some Facebook posters took note, wondering why the fall events got the ax.
The Alliance posted a response, noting the different applicable COVID-19 rules and restrictions.
The group runs the farmers market “under a special permit by the (Utah Department of Agriculture and Food). It’s extremely reduced in size and is operating with grocery-only vendors,” the Alliance post said. Live music and performances, typical farmers market staples, aren’t part of the revamped version.
By contrast, to rework Harvest Moon and the other events would have required a pretty major effort. “Unfortunately, when looking at adjusting our signature events to fit within the parameters set by the local health department and city officials, it is not something we are able to pull off at this time,” the Alliance said.
Caldwell noted the sort of difficulties the Alliance faced. Had the city wanted to keep its annual marathon this year, for instance, one of the requirements would have been assigning workers or volunteers to clean each of the portable bathrooms set up for the event after every use. “Some of the things, there just aren’t enough resources to do them safely,” Caldwell said.
Michaela Harris, environmental health director for the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said events like Harvest Moon and Witchstock typically draw 1,000 or more people and, thus, are prohibited per the COVID-19 guidelines currently in effect.
“Larger-scale events have been allowed only when they take place in a venue where ticket sales with assigned seating and mask use take place. It’s hard to make festivals and fairs fit into that model of assigned tickets and seating,” Harris said in an email. Echoing the Alliance post on Facebook, she also noted that Department of Agriculture and Food guidelines give leeway to events like Farmers Market Ogden because they serve as a venue for “essential food sales.”