Canceled Ice Time Festival to impact local businesses

DOWAGIAC — For the first time in 25 years, the sound of ice carvers picking and cutting through ice will not be heard in downtown Dowagiac.

The city’s 25th annual Ice Time Festival was canceled this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The event is hosted each year by the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber of commerce has prioritized the community’s health in not providing opportunities to gather where the virus can easily spread — per the CDC’s and health department guidelines — to help in the goal of keeping businesses open,” said Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce President and Ice Time chairman Kris Soenen, of Who Knew Consignment.

The event traditionally attracts some of the best ice carvers in the U.S. and features activities the entire family can enjoy. According to Soenen, the decision to cancel a festival such as the Ice Time Festival was not made lightly.

“It weighs quite a few different factors in planning for a safe and fun event with positive outcomes for both our guests and our business community,” she said. “In ‘normal times’ events are planned and fundraising starts months in advance, and always consider things such as safety and economic impact. The difficult thing about this past year is that the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has had to make decisions many months in advance of an event, and try to guess what restrictions on gathering might be in place six months down the calendar due the pandemic’s impact.”

Sponsors play an important role in the event’s planning process. Reducing festival events would have had a negative impact on the sponsors.

“We work to represent our corporate sponsors and the dollars they provide in a fiscally responsible manner,” Soenen said. “By minimizing activities to provide greater social distancing, the number of attendees would be reduced, which in turn lessens the economic impact on the business community, reflecting poorly on the festival, chamber and our corporate sponsors.  When using corporate dollars, we want to make the best decisions possible for the event, our community and our corporate sponsors, who partner with us to bring these community celebrations to Dowagiac.”

The Ice Time festival was one of several annual Dowagiac events that had to be canceled due to the pandemic, including Summer in The City and the Christmas Parade. Soenen and the chamber of commerce board are hopeful events and festivals can be hosted safely soon.

“Not holding festivals does have an economic impact on businesses throughout our community, from our retailers and eateries to our convenience stores, gas stations and grocers,” she said. “Businesses will miss that bump in traffic festivals provide, as well as the exposure to new customers that can become long term, repeat customers. The decisions made have not been made lightly. The chamber of commerce event committees are very much looking forward to planning events again.”

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