SPEARFISH — For the first time in its 15-year tenure as a summertime event series in Spearfish, Downtown Friday Nights will not kick off this June.
“We postpone due to weather quite frequently,” said Nathan Hoogshagen, executive director for the Spearfish Downtown Business Association (SDBA), the organization responsible for putting on the event. “As far as taking a whole chunk out like this, yes, I would say this is the first time that we’ve looked at taking an entire month of the event out, due to some unforeseen circumstance.”
Each year, the SDBA applies for a street closure permit from the city to block off a section of Main Street every Friday night for the 13-week event series, which usually features a stage for bands as well as food and merchandise vendors lining the street. This year, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the city did not approve the street closure.
Downtown Friday Nights grew out of First Fridays, a monthly event that started in 2005.
“We just thought it would be prudent not to have city sponsored large events at this time,” Spearfish Mayor Dana Boke said of the city’s decision not to allow the closure. “Festival in the Park they did cancel, and that’s a hard one to take too because it really is a celebration of summer in Spearfish.”
“The city decided to not approve our street closure request for the month of June (this year),” he said. “We decided, as a board, to not appeal the decision to city council and to just move forward with July and August.”
Hoogshagen said he and the president of the SDBA board met with city officials, including Boke, to discuss whether any measures could be taken to help mitigate the concerns over hosting a large gathering of people, such as forgoing bouncy houses, and trying to enforce seating requirements and social distancing.
“Because of the CDC recommendations and guidelines and then Gov. (Kristi) Noem’s guidelines with larger events, the city didn’t really want to budge much on not having the event in June. And so we didn’t really want to push that hard with them. We didn’t feel it appropriate or wise to do that at this point in time,” he said. “The first concern for us is the safety of the community, and we decided that that would be too hard to police and we wanted to make the best decision for the community.”
Hoogshagen said it was a very difficult decision not to hold any events for the month of June, particularly with so many other communities canceling their summertime events.
“We know that our community is going to need something to rally around. So it was a very hard decision for us to make,” he said. “We also have a lot of vendors that rely on income from Downtown Friday Nights to continue to make a living and feed their families.”
Boke reiterated Hoogshagen’s statement.
“We all deserve to have some fun and this has been quite the year. But you have to weigh that against protecting people and making sure that our community is safe for everyone.”
Although there will be no events scheduled for the month of June, Hoogshagen said SDBA is planning to pick things back up in July and August.
“What we were told was that we can make plans, but we need to hold on to them loosely,” he said with a good-humored laugh. “At the end of the day we felt it was the best decision to postpone at least the month of June and be very hopeful that we’re able to move forward in July and August.”
One other hurtle SDBA has run into this year is funding.
“A lot of our corporate sponsors have given their funding to COVID relief, and so we’ve had some of our major corporate donors back out,” Hoogshagen said.
Taking the month of June off will ultimately help offset the cost of the event series, which Hoogshagen said can run upwards of $60,000 to put on, but he said they’re still on the lookout for anyone looking to help sponsor the event.
“We would still welcome any other sponsors if people or businesses wanted to come in and just help us pay for one of the bands … but all in all I think we kind of have everything worked out to where it’s going to do what we want it to do,” he said.
Hoogshagen said the safety and well being of the community will ultimately be the deciding factor in any decisions made the SDBA moving forward, but just as important is peoples comfort in these trying and stressful times.
“If people want to wear masks, please wear masks; if you feel sick, please don’t come downtown; if you’re not comfortable shopping downtown, check out our businesses online, see what other options we have for delivery and take out and some of that kind of stuff,” he said. “We want our community to be safe, just like everyone else.”
Boke said with communities reopening to the public and welcoming tourists back into the Black Hills, it’s important for folks to remember that our communities have been lucky so far, but we are not immune to threat of a COVID-19 outbreak.
“People come to Spearfish, and they come to Deadwood, and they come to Lawrence County for many reasons,” she said. “(We’re) just taking it slow and seeing what the impact of tourism will be, what the impact of opening up restaurants and people moving around more and what that will be before we jump into the larger events within our city.”
This story has been edited to clarify when the eve began.
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