WINCHESTER — The 94th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is a wrap.
Despite being modified to comply with COVID-19 restrictions after being cancelled in 2020 over coronavirus concerns, the festival, which concluded Sunday, featured 21 events over 10 days.
Although the number of events was less than half of a typical Apple Blossom Festival, "We made it work," festival Executive Director Brad Veach said.
Fittingly, the festival's theme this year was "Back in Bloom."
Despite a few hiccups and COVID-related limitations for events along the way, Veach considered this year's festival a success, especially considering that the weather was mostly good over the past 10 days.
"Thank God for good weather this week," Veach said.
Even though festival-goers were disappointed that the Firefighters' and Grand Feature parades weren't held this year, the festival was still able to host many of its big events, with limited capacity, such as the United Bank Bloomin' Wine Fest, which sold out three of its five blocks over three days. Other events that sold out included the golf and tennis tournaments, as well as the Stag and Bloomers' luncheons and Pumps and Pearls, Veach said.
Many events were held this year at the Frederick County Fairgrounds, which had open-air tents, instead of in downtown Winchester.
"What this proved is that if we're backed into a corner, and we really needed to have some type of a festival just to kind of keep the festival going, that to think outside the box we could make things work," said Veach, who was hired as the festival's executive director in November 2019, making the 2021 festival the first that he has overseen.
The Apple Blossom Carnival, which was held in its traditional location behind Ward Plaza shopping center off Valley Avenue, drew large crowds, but only 900 people were allowed in at a time.
People waited in line for hours to get into the carnival on Friday night, despite strong, gusty winds and cooler temperatures that evening, Veach said. On Sunday, a long line of cars queued up to enter the fairgrounds, where the Bluegrass Festival and Bloomin' Sunday were being held.
Although the festival did not host a fireworks show at Handley High School this year, Shenandoah University stepped in and held a free fireworks display for the community on Saturday night.
The festival, which achieved nonprofit status in 2019, making it easier to donate to the Winchester-based organization, cut its budget by about a third this year with the cancellation of large events such as the parades in response to COVID precautions.
Veach said it's very expensive to put on the parades, and they take about a year to plan.
"I know that's kind of the favorite thing, but that's also a very expensive thing and we did it because of the governor's orders. We just couldn't do [the parades]," Veach said.
He said the festival is already gearing up for a full offering of events and parades next year.
Organizers won't know for another month if the festival made a profit. But in recent years the festival has experienced financial struggles, some related to poor weather that impacted attendance.
The festival had a net loss of $75,419 in fiscal year 2019, a net loss of $95,423 in FY 2018, a net income of $35,054 in FY 2017, a net loss of $44,100 in FY 2016, a net loss of $6,238 in FY 2015 and a net loss of $20,599 in FY 2014, according to IRS 990 filings. Data wasn't available for FY 2020, when the festival was canceled.
"It was challenging" to host the festival following last year's cancellation, Veach said, but the organization was able to receive Paycheck Protection Program funds as well as a loan from the Small Business Administration during the pandemic. It also received sizable donations from community businesses.
"We're not proud that we have a loss, but I don't think the community understands how expensive it is," Veach said.
Veach is hopeful this year's festival breaks even, or better, to put toward next year's festival.
He noted the festival wouldn't be possible without the more than 2,000 volunteers who help put it on. The organization only has three paid full-time employees.