Lori Perkins, a Yarmouth Clam Festival volunteer and vendor, heats silver for a piece she is working on for her business, MARTINI Jewels. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

YARMOUTH — The Yarmouth Clam Festival has been canceled for the second year in a row, and while vendors and stakeholders said it was the right move to ensure safety during the pandemic they’ll miss the decades-old summer tradition and the money it brings in.

Spanning a weekend in July since 1965, the festival draws over 100,000 people and is a good business day for vendors and nonprofits alike. However, organizers decided to cancel this year’s event, planned for the third weekend of July, on Feb. 16 due to concerns over COVID-19.

A vintage Yarmouth Clam Festival pin from the mid-1960s. Contributed / Larry Forcier

“It’s a huge disappointment, it is so fun and as a vendor, the craft community is like a family,” said Lori Perkins, owner of MARTINI Jewels. “You have customers who know you; it is sad without that.”

But the big losers may be the nonprofits that benefit from the proceeds. Each year anywhere from $200,000-$400,000 is turned over to organizations ranging from soup kitchens to donors of school supplies, according to Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adrienne Nardi.

One group that uses proceeds from the event to benefit the community is the Lions Club of Yarmouth, which sells up to 4,000 baskets of french fries along with other fried foods and its Lemon Lucy slush drink.

“Not only do we support various groups, but we always have a capital project, anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000, like the ball fields and playgrounds on North Road,” Lions past president and board member Larry Forcier said. “Much of that was built by the money we made from the clam festival. We always give back everything we make.” 

The local Lions have involved with the festival since it began in 1965. Charities the Lions support from festival proceeds include the Iris Network, which helps the blind and visually impaired; Casco Bay YMCA; Yarmouth Food Pantry; Yarmouth Cares About Neighbors community outreach program; Merrill Memorial Library and Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families on Sebago Lake.

These charities are still seeing support, Forcier said, with funds the Lions had already raised from previous years and other fundraising opportunities.

The Lions are now trying to pivot their fundraising efforts, as Forcier said the club is intent on the same level of giving.

Perkins, who is a Biddeford jewelry vendor and volunteer festival coordinator, has not fared as well. Until the festival was canceled last year, she sold her handmade wares for about eight years among over 100 other vendors. She said with restrictions in place due to the pandemic she’s been unable to attend over 30 similar shows, losing 80% of her business.

“I usually make triple figures in a year; I will be lucky to break a quarter of that,” Perkins said. “I’ve tried to pivot online, but it isn’t the same.”

Maria O’Connor, owner and artist at Ancient Fire Henna of Melrose, Massachusetts, was accepted as a first-time vendor in 2020 and has been hit hard by the lack of festivals; normally she does almost 60 events a year.

“I work face-to-face with my clients with no way to transition to Etsy (an online marketplace). Basically, I couldn’t pivot. I took a part-time job near my house to pay bills because I couldn’t trust unemployment,” O’Connor said.

She said at an event like the clam festival she could expect from $1,000-$2,000 in net profit. As a first-time vendor, it would have been good for business connections, too.

While vendors and stakeholders said they will miss being at the festival, they agreed it’s best to avoid being the location of a COVID-19 super spreader event, which the CDC loosely defines as a gathering that results in a large number of people being infected by the virus.

“It is sad, but think about the logistics. How would you even go about cleaning the numerous bathrooms,” Perkins said.

“It’s a free event, we couldn’t keep track of how many people come and fencing is too expensive,” Nardi said. “I mean, people donate their lawns for vendors, we just can’t make it work.”

Organizers hope they can hold smaller events over the summer to at least capture some of the positive energy – and profits – the festival would normally bring.

“We are working on ways to support our vendors and nonprofits, whether that is just fireworks or have different events or clam festival-esque things going on,” Nardi said.

The Lions Club food booth raises thousands of dollars each year at the clam festival to fund local projects and donations to other service groups. Contributed / Lions Club of Yarmouth

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