GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Haven will be celebrating the 96th annual Coast Guard Festival virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The festival was set to start July 24 and span 10 days. Organizers say 28 events were scheduled including a parade, kids day and fireworks show finale. But organizers had to cancel the festival in May, citing concerns about spreading the virus.
Instead, organizers are hosting a virtual salute and decorated the city with Coast Guard signs.
“It’s very sad because for us in town, it’s a celebration of family,” said Commander Michael Smith, is the executive director of Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival. “This would have been the 96th Coast Guard Festival. (It) started as a small picnic for Coast Guard members only and blew up into really an international celebration of the men and women of the Coast Guard.”
Smith said the cancellation was a major loss for the organization, which helps the men and women of the Coast Guard throughout the year.
“The income alone from the carnival supports half of what we do all year long. So now we don’t have that and financially that’s a little traumatizing,” Smith said. “We are a 501(c)(3) so we do depend on donations and sponsorships and this year we had nothing to partner with businesses for because we couldn’t put their name out. There was nothing to put their name on.”
Local businesses say they will also feel the loss. Without the festival, the amount of foot traffic for the week has declined drastically. The city says the festival brings in thousands of visitors every year and an economic boom of several million dollars.
“Downtown is packed with people. A lot of good energy, a lot of movement, people, families, the carnival and a lot of excitement going on,” store owner Sholeh Veiseh said, describing festivals of years past.
Veiseh owns Down to Earth, a boutique that sells women’s clothing and home decor. She said she has been in the downtown area for almost 30 years. She says the festival is a big part of Grand Haven’s identity as a city.
“It’s kind of disappointing because it’s just, this is ‘Coast Guard City,'” she said of the cancellation.
Debbie Otte, who owns art and decor store Tlaquepaque a few doors down, says she is looking on the bright side as large crowds have been difficult to maintain in recent years.
Otte said that while the remainder of the year is uncertain, she is hoping for steady business.
“I’m hoping people continue to come because schools won’t be in full time. People will still come to the lake. I think right now it’s just one day at a time for us,” Otte said “We just really support the locals and the tourism and we really appreciate all of the business that we get.”
Organizers say while things aren’t as grand this year, the message is the same.
“Even though we’re not clapping and there’s no fireworks, we love and respect what the Coast Guard does every day,” Smith said.
A virtual salute to the Coast Guard will take place Friday. Organizers are asking community members to decorate their front porches to sow support. More information can be found at CoastGuardFest.org.