ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the recent announcement of the cancellation of the 2020 Apple Festival, many are still wondering about the impact, the decisions, and the virus’ toll on the festival season.
Earlier this year, Chamber officials were planning on make-up days for the Apple Blossom Festival left over from May. At one point, discussions were set to host the Apple Blossom Festival in August and then the Apple Festival in October as normal. Now, neither of these festivals will see make-up days as the boards over each have fully cancelled the events.
Most of the citizens concerns voice through comments and social media revolve more around the virus than any economic impact. Some are applauding the choice, like Dylan Slade who called it a good decision stating, “Public Health Foremost.”
Still others are discounting the choice. Courtney Graham didn’t state whether she thought the cancellation was good or bad, but did state, “The apple houses are open, the rental cabins are open, they will still come.”
This statement does hold some merit as FYN gathered reports from the county and cities. According to Gilmer County’s Financial Officer, Sandi Holden, the collections of Hotel/Motel Tax in June alone reached $113,870. According to county records, their Hotel/Motel Tax has never been over $100,000 in the last three years. Comparing June to the same month in previous years, 2019 totaled $78,044. In 2018, June totaled $75, 108. In 2017, June totaled only $52,838.
Additionally, there has been only one month that reached $90,000. That was October 2019.
Ellijay is not that different, either. Their year-to-date report shows them already reaching $8,196 by July. Just under half of last year’s total collection of $16,882 and just over two-thirds of 2018’s $11,399 total.
However, October is consistently among the highest months for the county, showing that the Festival season does have a major impact on local economy. October was the highest month of the year for Hotel/Motel Tax in both 2018 and 2019. In 2017, it was third highest behind November and July, the highest month.
Digging deeper than just Hotel/Motel Tax, SPLOST collections on sales tax in the County paint a very similar story with one notable difference.
Just like the Hotel/Motel, SPLOST shows the months of June and July of 2020 setting records for collections in the county. According to Holden, June 2020 saw a SPLOST revenue of $440,176. July 2020 saw a SPLOST Revenue of $453,981.
SPLOST Revenue has only gone above $400,000 three times in the last six years. December 2019 reached $406,020. November 2018 reached $400,655. In those years, October has never gone above $400,000. The final also came in 2020, January reached $401,243.
Therein lies the difference. Whereas the Hotel/Motel Tax saw major increases in October, SPLOST collections saw less so, with October usually falling behind November and December in collections.
Comparatively, April of 2020, which worried local county and city governments and saw halts to projects and capital spending as they awaited the numbers to see how bad the economy would get, saw a collection of $374,630. Higher than any previous year’s October except 2019.
Locals are split with some saying they are happy with the decision and others questioning different signals from different entities. Some online have commented saying that one entity is cancelling the festival while another entity is pushing forward with opening schools, a hot topic in August with news stories from all over Georgia highlighting the issue.
However, one downtown business owner is optimistic despite the cancelled festival.
Steve Cortes, owner of WhimZ Boutique and Heart and Vine and a former head of the merchant’s association, said, “It’s certainly going to have an impact.”
Cortes explained, however, that his hope is that a lot of people will still come. Even in recent years, he notes that his business has had many vacationers, leaf-lookers, and others who either didn’t know of the Festival or weren’t planning to attend.
Cortes admitted there would be an impact, but added on saying, “I don’t think it’s going to have as big of an impact as everybody fears.”
He said that he believes many of the counties visitors have already made plans and probably won’t cancel them. And so he is preparing for an increase as he notes he has continued following guidelines with masks and other ways to combat the virus in his store.
One major note he added, is that August is looking better than his recent months in the business. Comparing sales and business with previous years, August has been optimistically close.
Comparisons of finances are suggesting just as many people could be heading our way in October. It seems an impact is coming, but no clear picture is available yet on what kind of increase or decrease could be seen. Cancelling the festival could mean that business is more spread out across the county, or it could mean overcrowded Apple Houses and Vineyards. It could either mean a more spread out October instead of focused into two weekends, or it could mean a dip from the record setting two months that the county has seen in June and July.