The Independence Square will be much quieter this Labor Day weekend.
The Independence Chamber of Commerce announced Monday it has canceled the annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival, though it is exploring a possible virtual format for craft and artist vendors.
The four-day festival draws an estimated 300,000 people to the Square, with hundreds of vendors, a carnival and a variety of musical acts throughout the weekend. For the Chamber, it’s a large expense but also their chief fundraiser.
"The big thing is, festivals and social distancing just don’t go together," Chamber President Tom Lesnak said. "Walking through Santa-Cali-Gon, even during slow times, it would be difficult to keep social distancing."
With recent COVID-19 resurgences around the country and the festival just two months out, Lesnak said organizers couldn’t guarantee public health safety.
"With what’s happening, it’s pretty clear this (virus) is going to be with us awhile," he said. "At that point, the decision became fairly easy."
Lesnak said a possible virtual format for vendors is "a little bit up in the air," as the company that provides the chamber’s database for vendor registration has been working on a virtual vendor program similar to a Facebook live or Zoom meeting, where customers can log in and talk to the vendor about their products.
That option will be available to vendors who do not ask for a deposit refund and instead choose to apply the deposit to next year’s festival.
"For some of the vendors, it gives them the opportunity to set up online for the first time," Lesnak said.
For food vendors, festival organizers hope to offer non-profit organizations a chance to set up and offer their offerings at a central location – such as the Uptown Market – over a two-day weekend.
"We still need some time to work that out," Lesnak said.
Because the pandemic had put Santa-Cali-Gon’s status in limbo, the chamber had not revealed its headline music artists scheduled to perform at this year’s festival.
The Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce announced last week it plans recast its annual Fall Fun Festival, held two weeks after Santa-Cali-Gon, as a local food tour and virtual booth experience on the festival website, along with virtual artist performances. The Missouri State Fair in August will go on as scheduled, minus the concerts. Organizers of Kansas City Irish Fest, also held on Labor Day weekend at Crown Center, announced in the spring the festival would reimagined this year "as a series of smaller, Irish-themed locally focused community experiences."