Canceled oyster fest hits Urbanna’s wallet
Here’s a pandemic casualty unlikely to appear on Dr. Fauci’s radar: The annual Urbanna Oyster Festival, traditionally set for the first weekend in November, has been shucked off.
Citing risks from COVID-19, the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation, the event’s sponsor, called off the festival for the first time in 63 years, setting in motion an economic tsunami that might amount to a blip elsewhere, but not in the Middle Peninsula.
The tiny riverside town of about 500 people, nestled on the banks of the Rappahannock River about an hour east of Richmond, typically draws more than 50,000 people from all over the country to the two-day event.
The yearly invasion generates about $3 million in direct sales within a five-county radius, says Joe Heyman, chairman of the foundation’s board.
“The schools in this county have to close on Friday due to it,” says Becky Bullock, who owns the Urbanna Market IGA on Main Street with her husband, Harry. “Buses cannot get through, so the entire school system shuts down.”
Michele Hutton, the town’s treasurer, says Urbanna stands to lose about $20,000 — roughly $10,000 in meals tax revenue and another $10,000 in slip fees at its marina.
Others, though, stand to face bigger losses, she adds.
The festival is the biggest fundraiser of the year for about seven major nonprofits, groups such as the local
Boys & Girls Club, the fire department and Christ Church Parish, which together split a yearly net profit of as much as $350,000, Heyman says.
Businesses, of course, will suffer, too.
For years, J&W Seafood in nearby Deltaville has provided the Lions Club with about 325 gallons of oysters for its fritters, says owner Susan Wade. Her projected loss? About $27,000.
“It hurts a lot,” she says.
The Bullocks’ market also has come to rely on the oyster festival for about 15% of its yearly sales, Harry Bullock says.
“We’re worried, I can tell you that,” he adds, noting that roughly 15 to 20 other businesses like his are in the same boat. “Everybody’s going to take a hit.”
Like many other festivals, some elements will continue this year virtually, Heyman says. The oyster festival queen will be crowned, as will the winner of the Virginia Oyster Shucking Championship. Both contests can be viewed online Nov. 7 at urbannaoysterfestival.com.