As much as $20M lost when pandemic torpedoed Harborfest; businesses struggle to stay afloat


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Aside from a handful of people jogging and biking, Town Point Park was empty Monday morning, as empty as it was over the first weekend in June. That’s the typical calendar slot for Harborfest.

In years past, the three-day festival was the beacon that drew hundreds of businesses, serving hundreds of thousands of people, and generating tens of millions of dollars, but not this year.

“The direct impact was anywhere from $15 million to $20 million,” said Karen Scherberger, CEO of Festevents, the organizer of Harborfest.

And some of those dollars would have come from the purse of longtime resident Frankie York.
She’s a veteran of many Harborfests.

“The individual businesses that offer the food and the drinks – that’s what you support. That’s who really benefits from the Harborfest,” she said.

The benefit ripples out to shops along Granby, places like Which Wich, where it wasn’t as easy to find customers as it otherwise would have been,

“It would have been substantially more if we would have had Harborfest going on,” manager Richard Cruz said. “Probably 50% more at least.”

Add a sunken Harborfest to a pandemic that has already left many businesses marooned, and you ended up with a business that was freaky slow down the street at Jimmy John’s.

“With the pandemic still going on and the streets are really not getting back to normal, not having Harborfest pretty much hit the store a substantial amount,” said manager Christian Blair.

“For the most part, right now, the weekends without any events, it’s a ghost town,” Cruz added.

Festevents says the $15 to $20 million spending estimate is only part of the impact.

“That doesn’t include the secondary and third-level additional spending. All these office buildings (surrounding Town Point Park) – people have parties, so there’s a lot of catering expenses for the Parade of Sail and the fireworks.,” Scherberger said.

Hope remains high at Festevents. The next main scheduled event is Jazz Fest coming up in August.

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