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Canceled Labor Day Ethnic Festivals Serve Up Financial Troubles

Labor Day weekend generally means a slew of cultural festivals in the Greater Cleveland area. While many of them are fun for the community at large, for the ethnic communities they serve, the events are a financial lifeline — but not this year.

John Elliott, the President of the George Varouh Cretan Club of Cleveland, told ideastream he’s having withdrawal symptoms right now. 

”We should be preparing right now, it’s last minute,” he said. “We should be setting up the tents and setting up the booths and cooking food!”

But there will be no booths, as the 10th annual Kamm’s Corners Greek Festival was canceled because of the pandemic. The festival typically runs Friday through Monday of Labor Day weekend, drawing about 5,000 people and raising an estimated $150,000. The club uses the money to maintain its event center, fund scholarships and donate back to the community. 

“Cancelling the festival this year and having a 200-seat party center as well just has been a double whammy,” Elliott said, adding that it “has been pretty dramatic from the financial stability of the organization.”

Fortunately, Elliott said his organization was able to qualify for a federal loan to help them through this year. They also held a NCAA-related fundraiser in the spring, and have been receiving donations throughout the pandemic. 

Michael Horvath, President of the American Hungarian Friends of Scouting, is having similar feelings of missing out on something this Labor Day weekend. His group was supposed to be hosting the 65th annual Hungarian Festival on Sunday, but that event was also canceled because of the pandemic. 

“It’s a tremendous loss for our organization not only financially, which means a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in profit for our scouting organizations here in the Greater Cleveland area, but also socially and culturally,” he said.  

The Hungarian Festival is the organization’s biggest money-making event of the year. The proceeds are used to maintain buildings and camp grounds owned by the Hungarian Scouts and to support four local scout troops throughout the year. 

Horvath said the group has been holding a “Silent Benefit Ball” this summer to solicit donations in an attempt to bridge the expected financial shortfall from cancelling this year’s festival as well as a ball usually held in the spring. 

The group did consider making the festival a drive-thru event this year, he said, but it did not make financial sense. It also would have been difficult to ensure social distancing in the kitchens, leaving no other option but to cancel the event. 

Kristian Campana, who runs the website Ohiofestivals.net, said holding festivals during a pandemic is difficult, but so is organizing them. 

“A lot of these festivals haven’t really been able to get together and organize like they normally would and it’s just sort of slowed everything down,” he said. “With all the moving parts it just became impossible to get it all together.” 

Campana estimates that in a normal year there are nearly 80 festivals held on Labor Day weekend across Ohio. This year, he’s guessing maybe four or five of those are still being held, with half of those going to a drive-thru model.

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