Feb. 9, 2021 — The board of directors of the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce has changed course on its plans for the 114th Rhododendron Festival and has suspended the event for the second year in a row. The event had been scheduled for its traditional date, the third weekend of May, May 12 to 16.
“The board and other stakeholders have agreed that there is no way to enforce social distancing and efficient proper sanitizing, even outdoors to hold the carnival,” said Chamber President/CEO Bettina Hannigan. “The same must be said for distancing at a vendor fair or during a parade. OHA guidelines prohibit large gatherings and we must comply with these restrictions. We are so saddened by another loss for this generational family tradition and its economic impact on Florence for a second year.”
Relatedly, Hannigan said that ancillary events such as the Rhody Run, the classic car show ‘n’ shine and cruise, the Rhododendron Society’s flower show, and music events, are not organized by the chamber and that the organizers of each will have to make their own decision for how they want to proceed.
“People missed the point that we were moving forward with cautious optimism when we announced that our first step was the cancelation of Rhody Court, since that’s the earliest aspect of the festival and demanded an early decision,” said Hannigan. “As quickly and unpredictively as the state issues its edicts for where and what is safe for people to do, and then just as quickly rescinds them, it leaves us trying to hit a moving target while making plans for a huge event in as little time as possible.”
In addition, she stated Oregon’s slow roll out of vaccines is a factor in deciding to suspend the event.
The Rhododendron Festival makes the single largest economic impact on Florence’s tourist-driven economy and serves as the kick-off to the tourism season. Around 1,900 people in Florence rely on tourism-based employment, and tourism pumps about $147 million into our community each year.
“Safety really is our top priority, and so we’re forced to hold off on promoting the level of tourism our community needs to survive. We are really chomping at the bit to get back up to speed, but it’s just not safe enough to do so yet,” Hannigan said. “Even though we’ve noticed them, this is not in response to those small pockets of mean-spirited outrage on social media. It’s just the right thing to do in the face of the rapid changes and edicts forced on society.”
Last year’s Rhody Fest, though officially cancelled for the first time since World War II, did feature a virtual parade coordinated by the City of Florence with short videos submitted by the public and edited for use on social media. Local rhododendron expert and Chamber Ambassador Mike Bones rolled a wheelbarrow packed with rhododendrons along the traditional parade route in lieu of the official Sunday Grand Floral Parade, a tradition since 1911.
“We continue doing all we can to safely advance the cause of commerce during the pandemic to make Florence the best place to live, work, shop, eat, play and stay — now, and as the crisis passes,” Hannigan said. “We must be vigilant in adhering to Gov. Kate Brown’s rulings. A healthy, vibrant community is essential for everyone’s success. As a chamber of commerce, and as a community at large, our top priority should be preventing further spread of COVID-19 and taking care of each other with compassion, humility and encouragement.”
For more information about the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce, stop by the Florence Visitor’s Center, 290 Highway 101, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday or visit FlorenceChamber.com.