They could be considered victims of their own success: Chester Winter Carnivale organizers have decided that the highly popular event will not happen in 2018. After 27 years, the Carnivale has grown so much that the sponsoring merchants are unable to foot the bill that includes the fees State Police Troop F requires to maintain public safety.
“We love Winter Carnivale. It’s a fabulous and fun event. It does bring people to Chester, brings neighbors out in the middle of winter, but it is expensive,” said First Selectman Lauren Gister.
Gister noted that the attendance has grown to the point that the event essentially doubles the population of the town. It is estimated that 5,000 to 7,000 folks come into the tiny town for the six hours that the event takes place.
Carnivale is a private event that is not staged by the town. The Town of Chester typically contributes a few hundred dollars yearly toward the festivities, Gister said, but there is no line item in the budget to add more and convincing the Chester Board of Finance to approve additional funding at a time when the state budget woes are burdening the town is not reasonable.
Funding for the event falls on the local merchants, who this year were unable to support the $9,200 required by police for road closures and crowd management.
“We live in a different world than we did 20 years ago,” said Resident State Trooper Matt Ewing. “We used to leave the roads open until it got so big and we lost control of emergency services.”
Ewing’s first Winter Carnivale was in 2011, and only Main Street was closed with three officers on watch. After it received publicity in magazines, newspapers, and websites, attendance blew up for 2012, necessitating the road closures, remote parking, and shuttle buses.
Concerns about the Boston Marathon bombing and the recent shooter in Las Vegas has trickled down to small-town events and are driving public safety costs up.
Ewing estimated the cost based on services required last year to close Route 148 and Main Street and to divert traffic around the downtown area. Additional closures have to happen on smaller side streets to prevent guests from parking on them and clogging the area, potentially preventing emergency vehicles from reaching an emergency.
Chester operates under the Connecticut Resident Trooper Program, which mandates that the operational strategy for all amusement programs—including the Chester Fair—must be determined by the state police. Carnivale organizer Carolyn Linn feels that this is unfortunate and that, if allowed, the organizers could hire private security for far less money than the 11 troopers would cost. Using private security for a state road closure is not an option for the troopers, however.
Suzie Woodward, the owner of Lark on Water Street in Chester, sees the event as a shot in the arm for local merchants, which makes the decision to cancel that much harder.
“The Carnivale is a wonderful tradition celebrating small-town life,” she says. “The merchants supported it with donations, but they now have had to admit that it couldn’t be facilitated as a merchant’s event as it has outgrown the merchants.”
One of the proposed solutions was to scale back the Carnivale by stopping off-site parking and shuttles, closing only close down Main Street, and changing the name to bring it back to a community-only festival, but Ewing doesn’t see that as a possibility.
“On the planning side, we will show up until we know that it has been scaled back. It can’t work in reverse. There is too much risk,” Ewing says. “It would be like trying to scale back the Super Bowl. People will still show up.”
Linn says that the cost of security isn’t the only cost. Shuttle buses, beads, balloons, ice sculptors, the tractor parade, and other items push the money needed more than $20,000. The festival has always been free, and Linn is committed to that, pointing out that charging entry fees would be a process that would have its own monetary requirements. She does add that should the festival get a major sponsor who can contribute to the cost of the event, it could be salvaged, but that it won’t solely happen with small donations from the community.
Unless someone can pony up, the organizers are hopeful that the Winter Carnivale or another iteration will happen in 2019.
Potential sponsors can reach the Carnivale organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.