Petersburg is canceling its Little Norway Festival, an annual celebration of Norwegian heritage for the Southeast Alaska fishing community.
The festival is held around May 17 and the anniversary of the signing of Norway’s constitution. It also honors Armed Forces Day. It’s become a week-long celebration with a parade, style show, pageant and many other fun events for residents and visitors.
Petersburg Chamber of Commerce administrator Mara Lutomski said the chamber board met Thursday, April 2nd and decided to cancel.
“It was a difficult decision,” Lutomski said. “It is this long-standing tradition here in Petersburg to hold a festival where we come together as actual Norwegians or sometimes just Norwegians at heart. So it’s difficult to say that no we won’t be getting together in the way we had in previous years. And to say that this is the first time it has been canceled in over 60 years, it is difficult to be the ones to make that decision but I think at this time knowing that a lot of people travel in, it is giving them some idea, if they hadn’t canceled their travel plans that they can do that now without having to wait until the last minute and just to give some people who were planning to possibly be vendors an idea so they don’t start ordering supplies themselves either in hopes that a festival will happen, it’s better for us to cancel a little bit earlier than just at the last minute.”
The board made the decision because of uncertainty over restrictions on travel and gathering in public because of the coronavirus. This year would have been the 62nd edition of the festival.
The cancellation will have an economic impact on the community. The festival typically marks the start of visitor season, a time when local merchants make the bulk of their money for the year.
“You know everybody being downtown, walking around the shops down there and buying from local vendors as well really generates a lot of revenue and then people who fly in and stay at the hotels, that generates revenue for those lodging places, as well as bed tax, that goes back to support the chamber and its operations,” Lutomski said. “Yeah, it’s difficult to think that we had to cancel this year and think what that might look like as the kick off to our summer season.”
The uncertainty for the summer includes questions about when ferry service will resume for the community. The state pushed back a now-tentative resumption for mainline service to an unspecified date in mid-May. There are also questions about what the season will look like this summer for smaller cruise ships that normally dock in Petersburg.
The chamber may look into some fun ideas to celebrate May 17th that include social distancing requirements.