By Lucas Vader
In a public announcement, including a letter to the editor in the Dec. 9 edition of the DCI, the Cedaredge Area Chamber of Commerce (CACC) announced that it will be dissolving at the end of the month. This decision is credited to ongoing hardships cast by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the lack of Applefest this year causing a loss in important revenue.
In its public statement, CACC assured that they “are in active conversations about the future of the event — please be assured that Applefest will continue!”
The small remainder of the CACC board of trustees addressed the town’s staff and board of trustees, particularly through Town Clerk and Economic Development Coordinator Kami Collins, who sits on the CACC board on behalf of the town.
“Had we had [Applefest] this year, it would have been our 43rd year, so [CACC] has been doing it for a really long time,” Collins explained. “This year, with the cancelation of Applefest due to COVID, we used 100% of Applefest revenue to support staff.”
The discussion for saving Applefest began with the need to pull together a community group of volunteers to organize the festival. Remaining board members of CACC have indicated that they would volunteer for this task.
The financial piece is, as Collins put it, “the big piece.”
“It’s kind of a weird position for me, being on both sides,” Collins said, “but the chamber board is asking the Cedaredge board of trustees if we would be willing to consider taking over the management of this festival under the economic development department.”
Collins reported that recent numbers have shown that it takes about $23,000 per year to run the festival, which then generates about $54,000.
The town would hypothetically be the financial backer while community volunteers, including CACC board members Cindy Starr and Dottie Whitlock, would serve on the planning committee for Applefest 2021.
The trustees unanimously showed interest in the Town of Cedaredge taking over Applefest from the chamber, with Trustee Heidi Weissner going as far as to call it a “no-brainer” for the town to take the reins.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Kami’s ability, and she’s obviously studied this thing in some depth,” Trustee Charles Howe commented. “I think the town can afford to fall on its face on this thing.”
“This is a chance for us all to excel,” Mayor Ray Hanson said. “And I would really love to see this town excel with this thing.” Hanson also commented that, as they had had some discussion on the matter before the meeting, previous mayor Gene Welch had also voiced his strong approval of the town taking over Applefest.
Due to the festival’s importance in the community, Collins commented that she didn’t foresee a problem getting volunteers, though they would need several. Ideally, planning for Applefest would begin on Jan. 2.
As the board further discussed the transition, Collins also brought up a need for some changes which CACC had recently seen and for which they would have adjusted had Applefest happened this year.
Those changes entail emphasizing quality over quantity for the festival’s vendors, while preferring more local artisans and western Colorado culture. Long-time residents would remember that this is the way Applefest used to be.
“The chamber really wanted to go back to a juried show, first of all, and really get back to the heart of Applefest so that local, community, handmade, that kind of thing,” Collins said. “I think a lot of people are tired of seeing the ‘plastic (stuff) from China.’ That’s what we hear a lot.”
The first year would be the tight one, as the festival would be operating without a boost of funds from a previous year. Applefest 2021 will be ground zero, but the board’s discussion indicated that it would sooner spend a relatively risky amount of money than to skimp on the event. The board showed confidence in that option, though, as a successful Applefest would more than make back that money, and no Applefest in recent years has been anything less than successful.
Last Applefest, in 2019, hit record numbers of upwards of 22,000-23,000 attendees on Saturday — a significant amount for a town with a population of not quite 2,200 as of the 2016 census.
Revenue would then either be reinvested in the community or go right back into the economic development fund from which it came.
Collins suggested that, if it is truly the town’s choice to take it over, it would be a good plan to hire at least a part time employee for the planning process, similar to the CACC executive director role in Applefest. That staff member is not, however, budgeted into the 2021 budget.
Trustee Richard Udd, who is a long-time resident who has taken part in the Applefest planning process, voiced his own opinion that Collins was underestimating the workload and that someone would probably have to take a full time position starting in about July to finish organizing the event.
Further planning for the transition, therefore, is still in need, and quickly. Preliminary planning for the event is supposed to begin next month, and as CACC said, Applefest will still happen, one way or another.
Collins and the board of trustees agreed with the sentiment.