Gene Jannotti, CEO, Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce

The CEO of the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce says the 500 small businesses in his organization are eager resume the large-scale street fairs and festivals that connect merchants to the community but changing state COVID-19 rules on outdoor gatherings make this impossible. 

The Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce (GWCC), which also includes Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside and Scotch Plains, used to put together four street fairs, monthly business meetings and a variety of town-specific events before the pandemic ushered an evolving series of state-ordered attendance restrictions that cancelled most gatherings 

Nowas more New Jersey residents have access to vaccines and state COVID-19 cases are trending downward, organizations like GWCC want to know what the state’s longer-term plans are for summer and fall events. 

“It’s important that we get some idea of when we can do them, what attendance levels are permitted,” said GWCC CEO Gene Jannotti, who noted large-scale outdoor events involve three months of planning and the window for summer festivals and street fairs is closing fast. “We certainly want to do them in a very safe way, and we will do that. We just need to have the guidance, Jannotti said. 

Outdoor festivals provide small local merchants with more opportunities to sell products, get prospects and connect with future customers both from within and outside their home community, Jannotti said. The cancellation of these events during 2020 resulted in the loss of revenue and community spirit. 

“What’s missing is that the community doesn’t get a chance to walk through the classic car shows or wander through the vendor booths and buy products from our chamber members…,” Jannotti said. Children miss the rides and other fun activities which help to “really bring back a community spirit that we have been missing for the last year,” he said. 

About 100 people, including legislators, attended the March 18 online meeting of the New Jersey Business Coalition to discuss the impact of the pandemic on their business operations.