Coronavirus delivers costly blow to Green Cove Springs, county coffers

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Cancellations of both the annual RiverFest Memorial Day Celebration, Clay County Fair and weddings at the Clay Theater, are reminders of how the COVID-19 virus has disrupted all facets of life in Green Cove Springs.

RiverFest and the fair arguably are the two most significant events held annually in Clay County.

The city of Green Cove Springs and Clay County have been forced to cancel both events in the interest of public health and safety. The following announcement was made on www.greencovesprings.com.

“The City of Green Cove Springs and its employees take great pride in hosting the Annual Memorial Day Festival, and it was with heavy hearts that the City Council moved to cancel this event. However, the health and safety of our citizens, partners, and employees are of the utmost importance,” said Executive Assistant to the City Manager, Kimberly Thomas. “We hope that all will understand our decision and make plans to return for next year’s Memorial Day Festival on May 31, 2021!”

Not only are the cancellations a hit to general community morale, but they are also a big hit to the economy. Both the fair and Riverfest are significant generators of revenue for the city of Green Cove Springs, the county, and the vendors themselves.

“Last year we estimated that we had an economic impact of about $60 million,” said Tasha Hyder, General Manager of the Clay County Fair. “That’s how much the fair brought to local businesses. We included our revenue in that as well. Obviously, that’s not going to happen this year because the fair’s not here. The vendors are not getting that money; the local restaurants are not; the hotels are missing out. It’s just the trickle-down effect, unfortunately.”

The Clay County Fair usually has about 150 vendors, according to Hyder. They are not all local; they come from all over, including food vendors and others.

Bruce Butler Jr. of Bright Light Catering is one of the vendors who was slated to work the Riverfest Memorial Day Celebration. He has a food truck and was looking forward to this year’s event. He has worked the event for the previous two years.

“The RiverFest is a big part of our business,” said Butler. “Actually, it’s our anniversary, so every year that’s our weekend. It’s a big one for us. Financially it’s one of our larger moneymaking events that help keep us going. With COVID-19, we had like three cancellations right on top of each other. One of the cancellations was within 24 hours of the event, which was the first Green Cove Food Truck Friday. We had over 200 pounds of raw meat that we were preparing for the Food Truck Friday event, an event that Saturday and another the following week. We were able to sell it, but we took a loss on it.”

Bouncer’s Slides and More is a company owned by Keith Wheeler and provides children’s entertainment at Riverfest. He is a lifetime Clay County resident. This year would have been the company’s ninth at the event. The company usually makes more than $2,000 in a day there.

“It’s a pretty big hit in revenue,” said Wheeler. “The fact that it’s on the heels of all the other cancellations you know. We were kind of targeting that as the big event back into the summer swing of things. Since all the Corona cancellations started, I’ve had over $45,000 in guaranteed revenue cancel. That’s a tough nut to handle. You hate to see our neighbors and other businesses struggle. It’s typically a really good event and it usually does well.”

The county fair was cancelled 21 days before it was supposed to open.

“One of our thoughts was, if we cancel now, this will give our vendors enough time. They will not buy the food; they will not buy the merchandise and lose out on money that they will need to live on for as long as this is going to take us. That was one of the deciding factors in canceling as early as we did.”

Vendors plan for this well in advance, submitting applications as early as last November.

Clay Theater was booked for weddings and receptions through the end of 2020. The theater has been forced to postpone or cancel most events and will remain closed until further notice.

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