YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Just like every other local institution, the Yorktown Chamber of Commerce faced a difficult decision about whether or not to hold their annual Street Fair, which was scheduled this year for Sunday, Oct. 11.

Last week, Yorktown News received the news that the Street Fair had been cancelled.

We spoke to Chamber President Sergio Esposito about the organization’s decision-making process and other matters related to the local economy and how it has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

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Why and how did the Yorktown Chamber make the decision to cancel the annual Street Fair?

Public safety. The Chamber considers the safety of all citizens --  as well as our member businesses and Street Fair vendors -- the single-most important factor when planning all events. 

With that in mind, we formulated a safety plan, which included the meticulous calculation of how many people would be able to safely attend. 

We used guidance from New York State and the CDC and even went beyond that. Some safety measures included socially distancing the vendor booths by spacing them 10 feet apart, leaving an empty 10-foot space between all vendors. 

We chose to limit the number of persons who could enter the Street Fair area within one-hour segments. We set up an Eventbrite page so attendees could register (for free) and choose the time slot they would like to attend. 

We also mandated sanitization stations for all booths. Even though the Street Fair is always outside, masks would need to be worn. The senior luncheon was re-designed to be a grab-and-go, and would be stationed outside to protect our most vulnerable group of citizens. 

We also chose not to have our usual musical acts and other stage attractions, to prevent clusters of people from gathering in one area and instead would have a DJ for music and entertainment. Our carnival rides were to be switched out in favor of safe amusements like miniature golf.

All the above entailed countless hours of discussions and planning, and the safety measures did not just stop there. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, after a rigorous discussion among our board of directors, we made the very difficult, but we think absolutely responsible and correct, decision to postpone the 2020 Street Fair. It always has been a destination event for Yorktown and the entire region, enjoying great support and enthusiasm from thousands of people near and far.

We thank all who were willing to participate, but in the end not holding it this year is the prudent and practical thing to do.

Some in Congress have called for a liability shield to protect businesses from lawsuits stemming from the spread of coronavirus. Does the Chamber support such legislation, and did the lack of a liability shield influence the Chamber’s decision in regard to the Street Fair?

Yes, the Chamber supports that legislation, with the qualification that it will also depend on how such legislation is written. Businesses have endured great hardships, and many have not and will not survive. The long-term viability of our locally owned businesses is paramount to both the health of our economy and the health of citizens who depend on these small- to medium-size businesses (SMBs).

Regarding the decision to not hold this year’s Street Fair, we live in a litigious society, and liability is always a concern. However, the biggest deciding factor in cancelling the Street Fair is the safety of the public. We balanced the environment of normalcy the Street Fair would provide against the requirement for maximum and uncompromised public safety. 

We also took into account the enormous size of the Street Fair. Last year, we had over 15,000 attendees pass through the one-day event. The Street Fair covers 30,000 square feet of outdoor space. Those factors, coupled with the multiple ways to enter the area from surrounding streets (i.e. Commerce, Veterans), made it totally impractical to guarantee the safety of all participants.

What impact has this decision and social distancing in general have on the finances of the Chamber?

The need for social distancing, and the pandemic as a whole, has had a substantial effect on the Chamber’s normal operating procedures and revenue streams. The financial impact for any business or organization that cannot conduct business as usual is profound. However, since the Chamber is a volunteer organization, with some very generous members stepping up to help, we are in the fortunate position where we can continue to help and advocate for the businesses and people of Yorktown.

As the colder weather sets in, do you have concerns about the local economy and particular industries like restaurants that have been required to reduce their indoor capacities by 50%? Should New York State revise its social distancing guidelines as a result?

We are extremely concerned for our eateries as the cold weather approaches and the outdoor dining initiatives set forth by our town officials begin to have less of a positive impact. Even with the outdoor dining, many restaurants are barely getting by, hanging on in hopes this will soon pass. As we head into the fall, and then winter, eateries may choose to install outdoor heaters and tents to make the atmosphere more hospitable, but all of that comes with additional costs. Some eateries are not set up for the outdoor dining experience, or were not able to take full advantage of the outdoor opportunities. We believe a hard look by our state officials is warranted, and should be ongoing. Of course, we must always consider the safety of the public.

What sort of ripple effect, if any, have you seen on the local economy with some schools remaining closed or delaying their opening?

There are a great many concerns regarding school closings. Students can learn via a video screen, but they should follow their standard daily schedule, as if they were learning in person. On paper, this all sounds fine, but, practically speaking, this may not be so cut-and-dried for our special needs children, and for elementary school students who may need more chaperoning and guidance.

Schools are one of the most important drivers of our economy, because as the children are off to school, the parents are off to work. In a practical sense, you may not be able, as a parent, to work from home if you have to monitor and help your children stay attentive on Zoom. Kids in school and parents at work go hand in hand.

What is the best approach to this pandemic that minimizes the harm to our society, factoring in health, economics and social and emotional well being of all ages?

Clear state guidance -- backed by steadfast resolve by everyone to abide, practice and follow that guidance -- is of paramount importance. People in at-risk age groups should be particularly apprehensive, and should stay at home. However, we must also consider the economic impact on people’s lives, and strike a clear balance between maintaining the safety and health of the public, and maintaining the health of our economy, which has a direct impact on the health of the public.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

We can get to a point where all sides consider and develop a rational approach to this pandemic.  We just need to take the politics out of it. The Chamber will continue to advocate and support our businesses and community. We are here if you need us and have already begun planning events for 2021.