LETTER: ...find it hard to believe they can’t find a lousy 150 square feet in the park

Dear Editor,
Here’s hoping I can bring a little constructive perspective to the issue concerning who the Ely Chamber of Commerce allows to exhibit at the Blueberry Arts Festival. I was the Executive Director of the Ely Chamber from 1983-1985 and when I arrived the Blueberry Festival was staged on Sheridan Street with about 40 booths, many of whom got washed all the way down the hill to Piragis’s in an ill-timed deluge. So I decided we had to get these poor exhibitors off the street and I chose Whiteside Park as the best option. This was before the City/townsfolk really enhanced the park but within two years we got the Blueberry Arts Festival up to 200 booths and well established as Ely’s largest public event. I received considerable blowback from some of the main street merchants for moving the Festival traffic from their front doors to the park but I think we can all acknowledge now, the Whiteside Park location has proven to be in the best interest of the Festival, the business community, exhibitors and visitors/shoppers.
Over the last 34 years, few, if any, Ely businesses have invested more time/effort/money into promoting the Boundary Waters and Ely to a national audience/market of ten’s of thousands, than my business, the Boundary Waters Journal. Yet ironically, despite being one of Ely’s biggest fan’s and having played a major role in the establishment of the Blueberry Arts Festival, BWJ has never been allowed to exhibit at the festival. Obviously my magazine does not fit the typical “arts and crafts” criteria but I have long been “puzzled” by the number of other publications/books/photography that are allowed to exhibit at the Festival. Despite what appears to be an “inconsistent” selection process for Blueberry Festival exhibitors, I have remained a loyal Ely Chamber member because I recognize all the positive things they do for our area.
So on one hand I understand the Chamber must have some rules on who is in/out but on the other, I find it hard to believe they can’t find a lousy 150 square feet in the park to hold the 15 or so Ely non-profits. We all run up against rules in everything we do, but don’t forget, there are always legitimate exceptions to the rule. One could argue that 250 “Arts and Crafts” booths is probably enough anyway. I just think these Ely non-profits are too important to the overall welfare of the Ely area to exclude from the Blueberry Festival. I can’t imagine any festival-goers object to the causes or presence of these volunteer based organizations. I say let them in.
Stu Osthoff
Ely, MN