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Business Community Feels Impact Of Virtual Spencer Pride Festival

Image of Spencer Pride 2018

Members of the community take part in the Spencer Pride Festival in 2019. (Spencer Pride Facebook)

The Spencer Pride Festival was forced off the courthouse square by Owen County commissioners last year.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown another wrench into the event.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions this summer, the festival had to cancel the June event. Festival organizers decided to move it to this week, but with the pandemic still raging, that meant nearly all of the events would take place virtually.

And the impact of that is being felt by local businesses.

Last year, more than 5,000 people descended on Spencer for the Pride Festival. And for many businesses around the town square, the sales they ring up during the festival help sustain them throughout the year.

This year, there will be no bump

“A lot of business owners expressed to us that we’re their No. 1 sales date each year,” said Jonathan Balash, the president of Spencer Pride. “Knowing that, I think it’s going to have a significant impact on local businesses.”

Jaime Sweany, who owns the Juniper Art Gallery on the south side of the courthouse square, echoed the importance of the festival to her business.

“My business, the Juniper Art Gallery, was discovered by a lot of people during the event, so it was very important to me,” Sweany said. “It’s devastating to Spencer to not to be able to have our usual Spencer Pride Festival, which brings so many people into our town.”

Sweany, who is from Bloomington, said she chose Spencer as a location for her gallery in part because of the Pride Festival and what it means for the community.

“That showed me I could come to a small town with a business and that there was enough open-mindedness in this community to feel like I could fit in,” she said.

Sophie Lewis, an employee at the Dragonfly Art Gallery on the west side of the square, said the Saturday of the Pride Festival is one of their busiest days of the year.

And with the festival moved from the courthouse lawn to the streets around the square this year, the gallery would have had the main event area right outside its door. But the pandemic ended that.

“We’re all trying to stay open and the Pride Festival definitely would bring us a lot of business to help us out a lot,” Lewis said.

Lewis is one of the founders of the Iris Youth Group, a Spencer Pride program designed for teens.

Spencer Pride itself is also feeling the effects of the festival being online. Balash said the organization relies on retail sales throughout the year at their community center and at other pride events. The money had already been spent organizing this year’s festival before it was forced online.

“For us, the impact is about $25,000 to what we had budgeted for,” Balash said. “So it’s a profound impact on us.”

But the festival is going on. There is a virtual marketplace for local businesses on the Spencer Pride website, the community center hosted a Youth Pride Event and a virtual dance party. Saturday, a documentary will be shown at the Tivoli Theatre and the week wraps up Sunday with a virtual drag queen story time.

“It’s a hard time right now, but we all need a little celebration and this is our opportunity to that,” Balash said. “I hope people will join us.”

Festival organizers — and the area’s businesses — hope to have the festival back as planned for its 15th anniversary next year.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here

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