New rules at Old Home Days in Williamsville next week will be enforced in an effort to prevent loitering and mischief among teenagers attending the popular summer festival.
Those younger than 16 will be banned from the event at Island Park after 6 p.m. unless accompanied by an adult. In addition, anyone younger than 18 is prohibited from wearing a backpack at the festival during the evening hours.
The Jolly Boys of Williamsville, a charitable nonprofit and the organizer of Old Home Days, set down the new policies in response to mounting complaints from festivalgoers in recent years, said Rick Brown, co-chairman of the event.
Patrons, particularly those with young children, increasingly complain about large groups of teenagers getting out of hand while hanging out at the festival, Brown said. There also have been problems with underage drinking by minors who sneak alcohol into the festival in their backpacks, he said.
“We saw it and had enough complaints about it that we realized we had to do something,” Brown said. “We’re not a baby-sitting service, and that’s almost what it has turned into.”
Organizers put out the word on social media to alert the public of the changes. Not surprisingly, the response has been mixed between those who applaud the new policies and those who believe it’s too extreme. Hanging out with friends at Old Home Days has long been a teenage tradition in Amherst.
Enforcement is another question.
As in the past, Amherst police will be on duty at Old Home Days to provide public safety and first aid, as well as traffic and crowd control.
The department, however, made it clear to organizers that officers won’t be there to enforce any bans.
“As far as the rules, those are up to the people that are putting on the show and running it,” Capt. Patrick M. McKenna said. “We’re just there to keep the peace.”
That’s understood, Brown said. That’s why private security will be situated at the entrance to Island Park – the only way onto the island – to enforce the new policies and turn kids away, if necessary.
“We’re not trying to ruin the fun for everybody,” Brown said, “we just got to do something to clean it up a bit.”
Local business owners – who reported some incidents of shoplifting and vandalism during Old Home Days last year – have expressed some skepticism.
“What happens is the parents just drop the kids off,” said Maria MacPeek, president of the Williamsville Business Association. “So there’s heightened concern this year that as the kids are turned away and scatter to the streets that things like vandalism and shoplifting will increase.
“We’re hoping, as an association, that these new rules will help,” MacPeek said, “but we do have our reservations, as well.”
The 38th annual Old Home Days festival begins at noon Tuesday, with the parade along Main Street starting at 6:30 p.m. The festival runs through Friday, with the fishing derby beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Another change this year is the sale of pay-one-price ride bracelets for rides, from 6 to 10 p.m., as a way to encourage more families to come out to the event.
For a full schedule of activities – which includes rides, games, live music, a bicycle rodeo and a beer tent – check out oldhomedays.org.