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Quaker Arts Festival lives for another year in Orchard Park

Less than a week ago the Quaker Arts Festival was out of business, but now it has been saved, before many knew it was in jeopardy.

The Orchard Park Jaycees, which had run the annual event since 1965, announced late last week that 2017 was the last year for the event.

But the Orchard Park Chamber of Commerce and Village of Orchard Park will continue running the two-day event, which is scheduled for Sept. 15 and 16 on the Orchard Park Middle School grounds. The Town of Orchard Park, Orchard Park Bee, Orchard Park Schools, Byrd House and Chestnut Ridge Conservancy also will be involved, according to the town.

"We're so excited about it," said Colleen Baker, associate director of the chamber.

Representatives from the chamber, village, Orchard Park School District and several businesses met Wednesday morning and decided to continue the festival, which has attracted about 250 vendors in recent years.

"We all decided we want to keep it here," Baker said.

A representative of the Jaycees could not be reached to comment, and Baker said the new group has reached out, but has not contacted them yet.

Word started spreading over the weekend after a letter from the Jaycees announcing the festival's demise started circulating. The letter said the pool of volunteers, number of exhibitors and attendance have decreased. The general costs of running the festival jumped by 24 percent over the last two years. The Jaycees also considered safety as a factor.

"Considering the increasing number of horrific events occurring in our country and rising costs, we are no longer able to ensure the welfare and safety of our patrons, vendors and organizers," the letter said.

The decision to end was not an easy one, according to the Jaycees. And not an easy decision for the community to accept.

"Oh my gosh, the community was shocked and upset, it's just a staple of our village," Mayor Jo Ann Litwin said. "The logical thing was to try and save the event."

The arts festival was started by Orchard Park Presbyterian Church in 1961, and it was held at the church until 1964. Twenty years ago its more than 300 vendors and entertainment were estimated to draw 50,000 to 100,000 to the grounds of the Middle School. The number of vendors last year was more than 250, Baker said, while police estimated attendance at 20,000 to 25,000.

Orchard Park Police Chief Mark F. Pacholec said large venue events present unusual security risks, but the crowd at Quaker Arts Festival is generally well-behaved. He said there are small problems, and one time an officer was almost struck by a car. But he said, "We had more issues with people parking where they shouldn't be."



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