ITHACA, NY -- With fall in its prime time, many people look forward to seeing the changing leaves or finally getting to wear a knit sweater, but if you know Ithaca, you know that the classic fall experience involves all things apple-related - caramel apples, apple cider and, of course, apple cider donuts. For the first time since the fall of 2019, Downtown Ithaca’s Apple Harvest Festival is back in full swing, with lots of fun activities for the whole family and, of course, plenty of apples to go around.

The weekend-long event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 1 through Sunday, Oct. 3, from 12 to 6 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will feature a variety of vendors, complete with fresh, local produce, homemade baked goods, homemade crafts created by local and regional businesses, and an assortment of tasty apple treats to celebrate the fall season. Though there are safety precautions put in place to protect vendors and participants alike, this year’s festival is the first time that it will be held in full capacity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last fall, to accommodate for the effects of the pandemic, a socially distanced “Apple Festive” took the place of the traditional festival. The adapted celebration, which took place over the course of a week, featured vendors and local restaurants in a limited capacity, during which no more than six vendors were allowed to set up shop in the Commons in order to keep things small and distanced. In addition, only 50 people were allowed to attend at a time. Masks were also mandatory for vendors and attendees and hand sanitizer was made available throughout the area.

Apple cider donuts

Darlene Wilber, the communications and grant development director for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said that this year’s festival will look similar to previous years, but will still have additional measures in place to ensure the safety of all participants.

“To allow for social distancing during the event, the vendors will be spaced out along the Commons, North Cayuga and West State streets,” Wilber said. “Mask wearing is encouraged while guests are indoors and visiting the businesses. Unvaccinated guests are responsible to wear a mask.”

Scott Rougeu, the special events director for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said in a press release that he is excited to see this year’s festival return to a more traditional setting.

“We look forward to seeing many guests sampling delicious fall-inspired foods and beverages, shopping at the craft show and at local businesses, and enjoying the live entertainment,” Rouge said. “Apple Harvest is an event people won't want to miss."

A few festival-goers examine the bountiful apple supply.

For this year’s festival, the main concern has revolved around safety, especially for the anticipated thousands of people that are planning to attend. Allison Graffin, the marketing director for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said that a major part of the planning and permitting process for the event has involved communicating with the Tompkins County Health Department to ensure the safety of vendors and attendees while still keeping the festival’s fun atmosphere alive.

“A lot of the mandates that existed in the pandemic have changed so much, so we always have to be quick on our feet to prepare for what’s coming next,” Griffin said. “I think there were certainly challenges to overcome in terms of operating the event safely. We’ve brought in our own security staff in addition to the city police staff to accommodate for the number of people we anticipate to come to the festival, and we had to cut a lot of our indoor events due to social distancing and masking concerns. Without having the ability to adapt to the ever-changing environment of this pandemic, an event of this size simply couldn’t happen.”

Though the festival is returning to its traditional setting, there are some changes that attendees will notice, more specifically regarding parking. While in previous years, the Green Street parking garage was available to the public, the parking garage will be closed off for this year’s festival. Despite this, Graffin said that with the abundance of public transportation in the area, access to the festival should not be an issue.

Apple harvest

“We have been working with the city, and we’ve been working with our own transportation demand management program to come up with informing the public on alternative ways to get to the festival, so you don’t need to bring your car,” Graffin said. “There are additional parking spots in places like Wegman’s, and there are bus stops that are running quite frequently, so we're really encouraging people to keep in mind that if you really are going to bring your car, consider parking it by one of the bus stops with the high-frequency route into downtown and ride it in. Or if it’s a beautiful day outside, you can bring your bike, or if you live in the area, walk to the festival.”

Apple Harvest Festival’s 39th year will feature numerous apple farmers, including local favorites like the New York Cider Company in northwest Ithaca, Little Tree Orchards in Newfield, NY, and AJ Teeter Farm in Enfield, NY. Though there are many fan favorites attending this year’s Apple Harvest Festival, there are also some newcomers, particularly in the craft department. These include Bags That Bite, an independently owned shop on the popular shopping website Etsy that sells handmade, furry monsters that also act as bags, Ragtrader Vintage, an online store that sells unique collections of jewelry, cuff links and pocket watches, and Yen Ospina, a self-taught artist based in Ithaca that specializes in colorful, detailed images steeped in her experience as a queer, Colombian-American woman.

In addition to the numerous apple farmers, food trucks and craft vendors, there will also be a “Fall in Downtown” trail that will give festival attendees the opportunity to visit local small businesses and get a deeper dive into the Ithaca experience. Some of the 24 businesses on this trail include popular spots like Monks on the Commons and One Ring Donuts, along with smaller shops like Alphabet Soup toy store, The Brain Shoppe and Sunny Days. The trail also allows attendees the opportunity to enter a raffle including a gift basket of items from a majority of the businesses on the trail, which Graffin said will be crucial in stimulating economic growth during the weekend-long event.

“There’s a lot of fun things to do and check out in the businesses, and the ‘Fall in Downtown’ trail provides an opportunity to help people attending the Apple Harvest actually know what those opportunities are,” Graffin said. “In the past, it was just cider beverages in the stores but we realized that there's a lot more than just cider in the celebration of the Apple Harvest festival, so we wanted to expand on that and try and show the breadth of opportunities and great things to check out.”

Though the pandemic is far from over, Graffin said that she hopes that this year’s festival will be a step in the right direction to returning to a “new normal.”

“We know that it’s a huge lift to bring it back, and there are a lot of concerns going into the process of getting the festival into full swing,” Griffin said. “This is our first large festival since the pandemic, so what we’re all looking forward to is for things to go smoothly, things are safe and that we’re able to take that step in the direction of returning to events in our community. We look at this as a major positive milestone, and just operating the event in and of itself is something we as a community can be proud of.”

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