Banner Blueberry week

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s Blueberry/Art Festival always draws a crowd but the opening day of this year’s event was impressive - even by the event’s lofty standards.
“I would call it a crush,” festival organizer Ellen Cashman said of the crowds she observed in the opening hours of the festival on Friday, July 29. “I think it was pretty awesome. I don’t know if we have ever seen the crowds that we saw on Friday. I was in the Chamber booth and we were surrounded by people the whole time.”
Many thousands of people passed through Whiteside Park before the three-day event ended on Sunday afternoon.
By all accounts, a good chunk of them spent money not only at the festival’s food and beverage locations, but with one or more or the better than 200 arts and craft vendors who set up shop in the city park for the 41st annual festival.
“There were very consistent sales, really good sales,” said Cashman. “We had some vendors who were driving two-to-four hours Friday night or Saturday night to get more product. They were really selling well.”
Cashman added “I know our salsa vendor was going to go Friday night and instead did some sort of courier service so they brought him 14 more cases of his salsa and when we closed Sunday he only had five left, and I know the blueberry jam lady sold 14 cases and was sold out by Sunday morning.”
Reports of brisk sales were far and wide.
“It was pretty consistent,” said Cashman, who coordinates the event for the sponsoring organization, the Ely Chamber of Commerce. “The Kiwanis sold I believe over 600 pies, and the fire department is looking at doing a bigger tent. I haven’t heard from merchants, but the town seemed very busy.”
No formal attendance compilation was done, but anecdotal reports were along the same lines of record or near-record attendance on the opening day of the festival, and very large crowds both Saturday and Sunday.
Traffic as well as the difficulty in securing parking spots within blocks of the park seemed to support those claims.
Always held on the last weekend of July, the Blueberry/Art Festival has grown to become the Ely’s largest event,
At least since the 1990s, the festival has served as the backdrop for the busiest weekend of the summer, filling the park as well as lodging establishments and bringing both vendors and visitors here from around the country.
But in 2020, the festival along with most other area events were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Plans for a more typical 2021 event went awry because of the weather. During the evening of the festival’s first day, a severe thunderstorm brought rain, hail and damaging winds that wreaked havoc across the area and inside the park, where trees fell and many vendors had tents damaged.
The rest of the festival was subsequently cancelled.
Vendors, visitors and organizers alike were thankful for a 2022 event that seemed to go off without a hitch.
“I think it was a really good event,” said Cashman. “Maybe the numbers weren’t as big on Saturday as Friday, but again it was consistent. There weren’t any lulls.”
Cashman and the Chamber now turn their attention to the Harvest Moon Festival, Sept. 9-11.