An ‘extremely smooth’ Urbanna Oyster Festival
by Larry Chowning
Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation chair Joe Heyman told the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors on December 3 that this year’s festival generated an estimated $300,000 for non-profit organizations in the region.
The festival ran “extremely smooth” this year, Heyman said. Other than a Letter to the Editor in the Southside Sentinel by a citizen complaining of the lack of accessibility to the town during the festival, “there were no other complaints,” he said.
It was misty on Friday and Heyman said the size of the crowd was down that day. However, because of a large crowd on Saturday the overall number of people attending the festival was higher than last year. Crowd figures are still far below the 2008 all-time high figure, which was about 60,000-plus, he said.
He noted the foundation’s decision to shift Community Row from Prince George Street to Virginia Street and take the parade route off Virginia Street continues to be a success. The foundation made the change last year because of the expense of barricades required during the parade to contain the crowd on Virginia Street. Police agreed to allow the elimination of the barricades if the parade bypassed most of Virginia Street and returned to its staging site via Prince George Street.
Heyman said Virginia Street merchants also are happier because the barricades are gone and those people uninterested in the parade are staying on Virginia Street and shopping.
He said there was a concern that, although the barricades were on Virginia Street for safety purposes, they were actually creating a hazard by confining large numbers of people in small areas during the parade.
He also noted that Community Row vendors are doing better on Virginia Street and the waterfront exhibits are busier because of the move.
Community Row was established in 1999 to allow Middlesex County small businesses and non-profits to participate in the festival without paying fees. The early Urbanna Days, forerunner of the Urbanna Oyster Festival, was established to promote small businesses and encourage non-profit participation. However, by the 1990s the escalating cost of running the festival required the foundation and Town of Urbanna to increase participation and business fees to the point that many small non-profits and businesses could not afford to participate. EVB Bank is the Community Row sponsor.
Heyman noted that the Boy Scouts and the Middlesex County Museum were additions to Community Row this year.
He said water taxis were reintroduced this year and more people came to the festival by water than in previous years. Water taxis were eliminated several years ago.
Heyman noted 75 Christchurch School students worked in the children’s activity tent this year. “In the past, it has not been well visited, but this year it was extremely successful,” he said.
The Festival Queen and Little Miss Spat program generated about $30,000 from scholarship donors and funds raised from the community service projects of the contestants, Heyman said.
He said seven for-profit food vendors did not return this year, probably because of low crowd numbers last year. He said he feels this helped the food vendors that did return and most had positive reports. On the negative side, the foundation and town lost revenue by not receiving fees from those seven vendors.
Heyman also noted the foundation has lost several corporate sponsors, which has hurt festival finances.
Heyman addressed concerns of Middlesex County Sheriff David Bushey that the foundation recognizes there were “holes” in the parade and “long delays.”
“We are still trying to figure out why there were long delays but we plan to work with the sheriff to make it better next year,” Heyman said.
Sheriff Bushey told supervisors in November that the parade lasted 77 minutes in length and created safety concerns. He made it clear next year’s Urbanna Oyster Festival Parade cannot last longer than one hour.