NEWBURYPORT — Some merchants wrote a letter to city officials last spring expressing concern about the impact of large spectator events such as Yankee Homecoming but following the latest celebration, it appears festivals have strong support.
The letter to Mayor Donna Holaday and the City Council suggested that Yankee Homecoming and other festivals have a negative impact on the majority of Newburyport’s downtown businesses.
But it appears that the recent 60th version of the traditional event provided a strong sales week for numerous shops and businesses, and generated good feelings among business leaders.
“We had a good Yankee Homecoming, and I would say that all festivals produce about 15 percent of our annual gross income,” said Ed Gronbeck, who with his wife, Diane, owns the Brass Lyon at 36 Market Square.
“Without festivals like Homecoming, our stores and some other small, independent shops could not stay open,” he said.
Claudia Harris, owner of the Elephant’s Trunk on Inn Street and an initiator of the letter of concern in April, said Monday she was pleased.
“Business was good this year and the flow of people was better,” Harris said.
“I appreciate John Brown’s efforts to put artisans and artists on Inn Street, which let people move more easily,” she said. “It’s important to us that people can get to the shop and get inside.”
Brown is a photographer and businessman who obtained permission from city officials and event organizers to give precedence to small artists’ booths on Inn Street rather than chain-food operations and out-of-town merchants.
Some merchants and residents have discussed in recent months whether Yankee Homecoming provides an economic benefit to the city.
Opponents argue that visitors take up parking spaces and clog downtown streets so that residents are reluctant to visit the shops and restaurants.
Ann Ormond, president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Yankee Homecoming is a positive event for the city.
“I do think that Yankee Homecoming is a benefit,” she said. “It brings people to town and some shops can do more business.”
This summer’s Yankee Homecoming received mixed reviews, Ormond said.
“Following this year’s event, many of the merchants I contacted were up and some were down,” she said. “Crowds were down a little bit but it depends what your business is, and where you are located on how well you did. Overall, it is a positive, economically.”
Many bars and restaurants were full during the eight-day event, and traditional sales events such as Hyman’s-Pennyworth’s shoe sale in the Shaw’s plaza drew large crowds.
“This has been a big week for us,” said George Carey, owner of the Sea Level restaurant at the Firehouse Center for the Arts. “We’re new and expected to be busy. But we’ve had more customers than we would have predicted.”
Events such as the fireworks Saturday night at Cashman Park and the parade down High Street on Sunday drew thousands.
David Strand, chairperson of the board of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he is a strong supporter of Yankee Homecoming and other festivals.
“Clipper ship building isn’t coming back, said Strand, CEO of Strand Marketing Inc. “Unfortunately, I think there’s some folks that think tourism is not the business of the future, either. I beg to differ.
“While health care, green technology, and certain pockets of manufacturing and engineering could bear fruit in the future, there’s no question we can only benefit from continually attracting people here to live, work and play. And events play a major role in providing routine opportunities to send out invitations.”
He added that meals and accommodations taxes fill a “huge need” in the city’s annual budget.
Mayor Donna Holaday spoke highly of Yankee Homecoming.
“Yankee Homecoming is a wonderful festival that provides a broad range of events and activities for residents, families and visitors,” she said.
“The festival draws thousands of people to our city and the downtown during this week. It is a positive economic event for our city, filling our restaurants, shops and docks. Retailers report that the event also brings visitors back to the city.
“This year’s homecoming was a great success with perfect weather and great attendance at many events — the Greek Festival ran out of food, over 1,100 attending the heritage tours, and there were huge crowds at the concerts.”
Grace Gonzalez Connolly, a local lawyer and Chamber of Commerce board member, also praised the weeklong celebration.
“Yankee Homecoming is a wonderful event,” she said. “There was nothing like this where I lived in southern Florida before moving here — except Disneyland.
“It’s great for families with youngsters, and when our kids were teens, it was nice to have a wholesome activity close to home that they could go to. It’s one of the amenities that makes Newburyport special.”
Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport. He can be reached at 978-961- 3149 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.