Westbrook Together Days, which draws thousands of festival-goers each year, won’t be held next month. File photo

WESTBROOK — Main Street and Riverbank Park will feel empty at the end of May without Westbrook Together Days, which has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This will the the first time in 41 years that the annual two-day event, which usually draws between 15,000 and 20,000 to the city, won’t be held.

Members of the Woman’s Club wave from their float during the Together Days parade last year. The club started the event 40 years ago. File photo

“It was a very difficult decision. It was so hard. We went weeks talking about it, reaching out to our chamber board members, our Together Day committee members,” said Suzanne Joyce, president of the Westbrook-Gorham Community Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the family festival.

When the stay-at-home orders were first put in place, organizers “thought we were just looking at postponement,” Joyce said.

But it became clear that a crowd of thousands wouldn’t be safe anytime soon, she said, and the chamber also did not want to ask for its usual donations to fund the event in light of the pandemic.

“A lot of businesses are now teaming up with Red Cross, working to get protective wear for organizations, feeding people. That’s the priority and we didn’t want to take from that,” Joyce said.

The cancellation of the beloved festival, which features a parade, live entertainment, games, carnival rides, a 5K road race, Fun Run and more, is disappointing but necessary, Mayor Mike Foley said.

“As someone who’s grown up with this, there’s been years where things have been rained out, but it’s something that we still look forward to every year,” he said. “It will be a disappointment for many to not have it.”

Local businesses will miss out on the economic boost they get from Together Days. Economic Development Director Dan Stevenson said he doesn’t have a solid figure of how much money the event injects into the city, but he knows it to be big.

“It drives local businesses way up, and with the vendors, it drives that supply chain up,” Stevenson said.

“The other thing is, that since they had to cancel it, it gets people thinking, ‘what’s the rest of the summer going to be and what is next?’ There is no answer to that,”  he said.

Stevenson said he has attended Together Days since he was in high school.

“People love it, I love it,” he said.

Blazes Burgers, on Main Street across from the park, does an additional $2,000 in sales during the weekend of Together Days, said owner Alex Stone. This year, they expected another $1,000 because of their new bar. The loss of the event is “going to hurt,” he said.

It’s an extra few thousand that weekend we will miss out on, it’s one of our busiest days. But, it’s for the greater good – there’s no way to socially distance with that,” he said.

“I love Together Days though, it’s one of my favorite days of the year, and it’s tough to lose it this year,” Stone said.

Last year’s float winner in the parade, Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution, also a sponsor, will miss the community interaction the festival provides, said President Bob Quentin.

“We are a community bank, so we feel like we belong in the community, and our brand is about interacting,” Quentin said. “Together Days is another example of that. It’s a day our people are out there, getting that person to person interaction, that’s where we get to make a difference in how we impress people.”

The chamber, which is using previously raised funds for scholarships, may hold a make-up event later in the year, but if not, next year’s Together Days will be “bigger and better,” Joyce said.

“We hope that people don’t lose site of these great events, and once things start to return to normal, we can catch up on all these celebrations we missed, we deserve it,” Quentin said.

A young ballplayer takes a throw at the dunk tank in hopes of sinking his coach in the cold water at last year’s Together Days at Riverbank Park. File photo

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