Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Meet Me At The Fair

I tend not to discuss local news in this blog, mostly because 90% of my readers aren't from Chicago or the outlying suburbs, but there is something that has been dwelling on my mind:

We Downers Grove residents tend to associate the fourth weekend in June with Heritage Fest. Launched in 1982 to celebrate the town's sesquicentennial, Heritage Fest is a three-day party held on the streets of downtown Downers. To some degree, it's a miniature version of the Taste of Chicago; there's carnival rides, live music, and all sorts of delicious yet nutritionally-challenged cuisine. It's a cherished community event and a profitable one to boot, so I was quite shocked to learn that the village had cancelled Heritage Fest for 2010.

I first heard about the cancellation on Facebook about two weeks ago, thinking that this was some goofy rumor. Early last week, however the decision to skip Heritage Fest for a year --and maybe more-- became a reality. Apparently the village has a $4.5 million budget shortfall, and something had to give. (Yes, the population of DG is just under 49,000, but we're still considered a village for zoning purposes.) For a generation of Downers Grove residents who have expected Heritage Fest every June like a morning sunrise, it's as shocking as it is a sad indictator of the economy. As this article implies, the tourism that Hertiage Fest brought to Downers Grove and the sales tax revenue it generated will be deeply missed. The village council has left the door open to private sponsorship or even a fundraiser, though I'm doubtful that anyone will chip in the amount of money needed to keep the festival going.

In the end, losing Heritage Fest may not necessarily be the end of the world. The success of our festival inspired other towns in the western Chicago suburbs to launch their own hometown fiestas, or if they already had one, to at least up the ante. I guess driving two towns over for elephant ears will make do for a year, though it won't feel the same. Plus, it's not like this was the only event that the village council chose to cancel; our annual ice sculpture contest was benched for 2010, and the National Cycling Championships will also have to find a new home next year. Nevertheless, it's a depressing sign of the times when nobody can afford to have fun. Then again, maybe God is punishing the village for booking Foghat for the 2007 fest.

Next week: the year in music, 2009.

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