Pecan Street Festival canceled for 4th time, COVID-19 surge hitting struggling artists hard

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following the cancelation of this fall’s Pecan Street Festival, local vendors are upset they’re missing another opportunity to showcase and sell their art.

The City of Austin denied the festival’s special event permit on Tuesday, four days after the deadline for vendors to pay their non-refundable booth fees for the festival.

It’s the fourth time Pecan Street Festival has had to cancel its bi-annual event due to the pandemic.

The city says Pecan Street Festival organizers originally applied for a permit before the city changed its special event requirements on August 30. The city says that change came after Austin moved into Stage 5 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines.

The city’s new criteria include a requirement for outside events that will have more than 2,500 people that all in-person attendees must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to any event within the city’s purview.

Pecan Street Festival organizers say they planned to have COVID-19 testing and vaccination booths at the event.

However, they say they couldn’t meet the city’s new requirement because the event is free and there are no barricades. People are able to come and go along Sixth Street.

Organizers tell KXAN that vendors’ contracts say the booth fees they pay are non-refundable. However, the Pecan Street Association is refunding 40% of vendors’ fees or allowing them to transfer their full booth fees to the spring, for a spot at that festival. The same was done when the spring festival was canceled earlier this year.

Festival organizers say like local artists, they too are struggling, so the 60% of booth fees being kept will go toward expenses they paid while planning the event.

While the city’s new criteria for special events permits were announced at the end of August, Pecan Street Festival vendors were allowed to pay their booth fees until Friday.

Natalie Wallace, owner of new embroidery business With Everything feels vendors should get full refunds, saying there was no communication with them about what was going on.

“I completely understand the testing and the requirements of the city. But where it’s really frustrating as a vendor and an artist, we weren’t told any of this,” Wallace said. “We weren’t updated. We found out yesterday, along with everyone else on social media that it was canceled. We got the email at the same time, I’m pretty sure, they posted it. So we’ve had no communication, we didn’t know that the city updated their requirements.”

She says she can’t make concrete plans eight months out. However, she says the 40% refund of her booth fees wouldn’t even cover one of the orders she made for materials to sell at the festival.

“We’ve spent our time, our own money, and everything in hopes that we were going to make this back,” she said, “And suddenly, that’s taken away from us, but they get to keep the majority of it.”

Owner of Opal Dreams Jewelry Tandie Van Den Berg feels Wallace’s pain. Twenty percent of her total profits come from the Spring and Fall Pecan Street Festivals. With last year’s cancellations, she already had to take out loans.

“When this got canceled, all of our projections just got thrown out the window. This is our biggest event for the year,” Van Den Berg said. “All that money that you put in not only for your booth but for the raw materials, all the hours of work that you do — I was gonna debut a collection at this event — that’s just all down the drain.”

To try and attract customers who would have been at the Pecan Street Festival, she’s offering a 10% discount to anyone who uses the code PECAN STREET for the Opal Dreams online store.

Meanwhile, Tommy Hill, who runs Unearthed ATX with his wife, worries the cancellation of this event is just the start of art events being canceled during their busiest season since many will be held inside as it gets colder.

“You have three months to really make most of your profit for the year. So when you book out and plan on these shows for months at a time, you know, in a season like this, then it’s not just losing, you know, the $1,000 booth rent, which is tough on a lot of us, but it’s the missed opportunity of those sales,” Hill explained.

He says many artists already passed up going to another show this weekend because they chose Pecan Street Festival.

Hill feels with so many other events still allowed in the area, the cancellation of an outside event like Pecan Street Festival could be considered somewhat futile.

“You have UT which has 100,000 fans, you have COTA, you have ACL,” he said, adding, “We still have high school football, the convention center still has conventions going.”

While the city doesn’t control permitting for all of those events, it does issue ACL Fest’s special event permit. A city spokesman told KXAN Wednesday ACL’s permit for October has not been approved, yet.

Of all the events still happening as the pandemic rages on, Hill says he doesn’t think Pecan Street Festival should have been one that was canceled.

“We’re all trying to get through this and deal with it, but it feels like when festivals like this, which are probably a little more crowded than a busy street, you know, Congress on a busy workday, we’re outside, and the people that hurt — it’s tough,” he said. “It feels a lot like city leaders, you know, the decision-makers are just wanting to do something to say, ‘Look, we’re trying,’ when they’re scooping a cup full of water out of a boat that is full of water all around.”

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