By Sasha Podzorov
ROCHESTER, N.Y.- The Rochester Lilac Festival, originally scheduled for May 8 to 17, was canceled by its organizers on March 20 due to the spread of COVID-19, which already reached 300 cases in Monroe County on Tuesday, March 31st
Known for its live music and beautiful scenery, the festival attracts more than 500,000 people over its ten day period. Its cancellation followed guidance from the Monroe County Health Department. The announcement came at a time when the prospect of normal life is needed more than ever.
“The Lilac Festival is pretty much the start of summer,” longtime festival-goer Michael Harris said. “Tons of people come out, there’s music and food trucks, it’s really an event we need after weeks of isolation.”
All New York residents have been on “PAUSE” since March 22, when an executive order issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo has limited non-essential travel and social gatherings over 10 people. The directive has now been extended to April 15, when Cuomo will reassess the situation.
In the meantime, over 150 businesses and vendors who were scheduled to attend the festival will be left without the foot traffic and interest they get from one of the largest festivals in Western New York. For Mike Sharlow, the owner of SYRACHA’CUSE Gourmet Sauces in Syracuse, the impact of the cancelation is tremendous.
“We count on festivals for 80 to 85% of our revenue for the entire year,” Sharlow said, adding that other festivals he planned to attend were canceled as well. “[The Lilac Festival] is one of the top-five biggest festivals that we attend every year.”
Among residents of the Highland Park area, the lack of festivities in May will be a drastic change from the norm.
“On one hand, I won’t have the 10 days of inconvenience… but the festival is one of the reasons to live in the area,” Saul Maniero, who lives in the surrounding neighborhood, said. “You see people walk by and you see friends [who] stop by on their way to the festival. I’m definitely going to miss that.”
But if the event indeed is postponed as organizers hope rather than fully canceled, some view it as a positive for attracting festival-goers.
“I think after the quarantine ends, the festival would attract a lot more people than usual,” Alexa Halvatzis, of Pittsford, said. “We’ve spent so long cooped up inside that being outside, smelling the lilacs and interacting with other people sounds like the perfect scenario.”
Lilac Festival organizers have a narrow window to work with to find a new date for the festival within the timeframe of the lilac bloom, which can be anywhere from two to upwards of six weeks in late May. There is no current timetable for a decision.