As the leaves start to turn and temperatures drop, the fall season in Ithaca is usually marked by thousands of people gathering on The Commons for apple cider doughnuts and show-stopping performances at the annual Apple Harvest Festival, or Apple Fest. This year, the celebration is going to look a lot different.
The Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) is holding Apple Festive, a safe and socially distant celebration, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4. The event, sponsored by Tompkins Trust Company, will include an Open Air Apple Farmers Market on The Commons and an Apple and Cider Trail with participating restaurants and shops downtown.
“We looked at some of the best parts about the festival, and we looked for opportunities this year to be able to reflect on, reminisce on, enjoy and also make possible opportunities for people to take part in pieces of the festival that they enjoyed without the crowd,” DIA Marketing Director Allison Graffin said.
The 38th Annual Apple Harvest Festival was initially scheduled Oct. 2–4, but it, along with many of DIA’s other large annual events, was canceled in July. Other canceled events include Ithaca Fashion Week and the Chowder Cook-Off.
During the farmers market, there will be a maximum of six vendors per day. Apple Fest typically has upward of 200 vendors downtown, said Scott Rougeau, special events director of DIA. He said there will be no food trucks or craft vendors, just lots of produce, cider, pre-made baked goods — and yes, cider doughnuts.
“After talking with our team here and … checking with the [Tompkins County Health Department] and city officials, we figured that we could do something safely but very, very scaled down,” he said.
Samantha Hillson, director of health promotion for the Tompkins County Health Department, said that the health department is reviewing plans the DIA submitted.
“The planning organization is taking all necessary COVID-19 precautions, including distance, density, mask–wearing and hand hygiene,” Hillson said via email. “All individuals who attend the event should follow COVID precautions as they would in any other venue.”
The farmers market will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday of Apple Festive. Rougeau said these daytime and weekday hours were selected to intentionally avoid large crowds at once.
Graffin said that every stand at the farmers market will have socially distant lines with markers on the ground. She also said that masks will be required and that there will be hand sanitizer stations throughout The Commons.
Graffin said that DIA wanted to hold this market in order to help local farms sell their harvest this season.
“[Apple Fest] was a big weekend for them and for their business, and so we know that this is going to be a hard year for them without it,” she said. “We were looking for a way to try and help, if we can, connect shoppers interested in buying the apples to these farmers that grow them.”
For the Apple and Cider Trail, shops and restaurants downtown will be offering apple-themed food, drinks and products, Rougeau said. Attendees can print cider trail passports, which are slips they can use to collect stamps at eateries or shops as part of the trail and then submit to DIA to enter to win prizes.
Coltivare has been participating in Apple Fest since the restaurant’s first year, selling its widely popular smoked gouda apple macaroni and cheese on The Commons, said Jason Sidle, director of operations at Coltivare. This year, the restaurant will be part of the cider trail, selling its macaroni and cheese, which is a regular menu item, and apple-themed appetizer, main course and dessert specials throughout the week, Sidle said.
“Being that we’ve actually been such a big part of the Apple Harvest Festival in the past, and it’s helped us so much, … I just feel like in order to give back appropriately that we just want to make sure that we participate in whatever ways … that we can participate,” he said.
Ithaca College senior Madolyn Laurine said that, at first, she was excited by the news of Apple Festive but that, after more consideration, she felt concerned. Laurine said she thinks the increased number of people congregating on The Commons will worsen the pandemic in Tompkins County. As of Sept. 21, there have been 395 positive cases since March in the county. There are currently 20 active cases in the county, according to the health department.
Laurine, who is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of having fibromyalgia, a chronic pain and fatigue disorder, said she will not be attending the event.
“I understand that this will be positive for businesses,” Laurine said. “But then I see the negative impact on people like myself who it will not be safe for to go onto The Commons during the couple days that this event is being hosted over.”
Junior Anna Fredrick said that she was surprised to see news of DIA hosting Apple Festive. She said that she plans to attend and that it seems like all necessary safety precautions will be taken.
“I haven’t really felt too worried about being in public because people have been wearing masks,” Fredrick said. “I feel like as long as everyone keeps doing that and keeps their distance from others, then it should be fine.”
Christina Moylan, director of public health emergency preparedness at the college, said she recommends that students who attend the event wear face coverings, maintain social distancing and consider bringing a personal hand sanitizer with them. She said students should be aware of whatever safety protocols Apple Festive has put into place and abide by them.
“My other recommendation would be to enjoy the outdoor parts of the event,” Moylan said. “It’s a great time to be downtown in Ithaca, and I think you can do that in a way that’s safe, and if you realize that it’s just getting too crowded for your comfort level, that you just leave, and don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re around huge crowds of people, particularly in confined spaces.”
Graffin said that she is hopeful that DIA may be able to bring back Apple Fest next year. She said she hopes Apple Festive makes attendees optimistic as well.
“We hope it helps to bring some good cheer in a year that is just plagued with all sorts of difficult events,” she said. “It’s an attempt to remember some of the things that are great and also a way to enjoy parts of the season”