LACONIA — If Karmen Gifford wanted to know how people felt about the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, all she had to do was cancel it.
Gifford, president of the Greater Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, announced late last week that there would be no 2022 Pumpkin Festival, due to a lack of support from sponsors and volunteers. She then spent all weekend fielding literally thousands of emails and social media postings, all of which added up to her saying these words on Monday: “We are having a festival.”
Many details are yet to be decided, but Gifford said that this year’s Pumpkin Fest, the first one after two years of pandemic-related closures, is back on, will be a one-day affair Saturday, Oct. 29, in downtown Laconia.
Last week, Gifford’s announcement came with an explanation that the two-person staff at the Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the event, couldn’t perform all of the tasks necessary without help from volunteers, nor could the organization cover the costs associated with the equipment rentals, road closures, electricity and insurance that a street festival entails.
Since that went public, “the outpouring of support was amazing. I got a ton of emails from people who offered to help, offered their services,” she said. “They just came out of the woodwork.”
Gifford plans to share later this week the date for a community discussion about the 2022 Pumpkin Festival — what it could entail, and how much it would require in the way of sponsorships and volunteers.
Jennifer Corriveau, owner of Remix Nutrition, located within the CAKE Theatre, started selling shakes and other beverages in October of last year, so this would be her first Pumpkin Festival.
“I’m excited, the more the merrier when it comes to festivals and activities and getting new people downtown, this place is really coming back to life, from what I can understand,” said Corriveau, adding that she would be willing to play a role in putting on the event.
Trillium Farm to Table also opened since the last time the event was held. Hannah Rush, owner, said, “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Rush used to work at Local Eatery, and, “We used to do stuff for Pumpkin Fest and that was very successful, I know there’s nothing bad that can come out of it.” She isn’t sure what Trillium will do — some pumpkin-themed menu items are highly likely — but is certain that it will be a boon to downtown.
“It just benefits everybody. Pumpkin Festival is good for all the businesses. I’m glad it’s coming back,” Rush said.
At Lucky Vibes Tattoo, on Main Street, owner Ray Bass said he would welcome children to get free face paintings during the festival, while other artists in his shop would be tattooing customers.”It does bring a lot of people downtown,” he said.
“I think the more events we can bring downtown, the better,” said Myles Chase, owner of MC Cycle and Sports. “I think it’s great that we can get the event up and going again, get the crowds back to downtown.”
Bank of New Hampshire can be counted on to help, said Tiffany Baert, vice president and marketing officer, who noted that the bank has been an “enthusiastic supporter” of the event since it came to the city in 2016.
“We are happy to hear that after the recent announcement of the 2022 cancellation the city has rallied to bring it back. Events such as this are, in part, what make Laconia so special,” Baert said. Since the last festival, the city has become a more attractive tourist destination, she said, “and we should all be excited to invite this event back to experience all that it offers. Bank of New Hampshire will continue to proudly sponsor and provide volunteers in support.”
Ian Raymond, photographer, said he’s usually been too busy capturing images of the event to offer any activities for visitors to engage with. However, he said he has always enjoyed the festival, particularly when Canal Street was turned into its own festival-within-a-festival by artist Larry Frates. “If we could do that again, that would be fantastic.”
One of the Canal Street business owners, John Bethel, of Piedmont Print and Frame, said, “We’d love to do something like shut it down and have a big party.”
Bethel took issue with Gifford’s initial explanation that a lack of community support was making cancellation necessary, and he wasn't the only one. Bethel said local business owners responded when asked to support the upcoming Coffee Festival, for example.
“When asked, everyone came up with something they could do. What may have been missing was, we weren’t asked,” to help with the Pumpkin Festival, Bethel said. “So it’s disheartening to see an article about all of us not pulling weight.”
Jim Daubenspeck, who owns a cobbler shop on Canal Street, echoed Bethel’s sentiment. Daubenspeck said he even surveyed other downtown businesses to see if others were asked and he was skipped over.
“Not one of the people I personally spoke with were contacted,” Daubenspeck said. He also said it was “disturbing” that Gifford alluded to the possibility that the festival could relocate some of its attractions to Weirs Beach, or to the outlet malls in Tilton.
For Daubenspeck, that inflamed a sense that he already held, that there wasn’t an organization that solely represented the interests of downtown Laconia’s businesses. That’s why he allowed his membership in the chamber to lapse, and, he said, why there are few other downtown businesses paying dues to the chamber.
“I will gladly reconsider membership and support of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce when the leadership changes,” Daubenspeck said.