The recent renovation of the Commons created a more open and vibrant atmosphere for this year’s Downtown Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival, attracting large crowds of enthusiastic visitors to the new center of downtown Ithaca, according to business owners and festival goers.
This year marks the 33rd annual Applefest and the first on the newly renovated Commons. The Commons, which officially re-opened in August after being under construction since April 2013, now features new paving, bike racks, gateways and a playground. The festival spanned multiple streets around the Commons, filled with vendors selling a variety of items — from handmade jewelry to Amish whoopie pies and funnel cake.
Many vendors at Applefest said they felt that the completion of construction benefitted the festival, and as of Friday afternoon, some said they had experienced an increase in business from previous years.
“We’ve done double what we were expecting… for us,” said Rob Parcell, co-owner of Maple River Syrup Company and one of the vendors at the festival. “Today’s been pretty good.”
Parcell said he believes the renovation of the Commons could be responsible for this success because “people are more concentrated in this area.”
One benefit of the new Commons, is “the number of people that can walk through the middle […] they can see my display from farther off,” said Lisa Ferguson, the owner and operator of Laughing Goat Fiber. The improved accessibility and visibility has boosted business for the company, which sells hand-dyed products made of yarn from goats, alpacas, and sheep.
“I’m worried that I’m going to run out of medium mittens,” Ferguson said. “It’s been pretty much nonstop.”
Applefest not only brought business for local vendors who set up tents around the Commons, but it also brought visitors and tourists into the surrounding shops, said store managers.
“Now that [Applefest] is back on the Commons again, I think we’re going to get a lot more business,” said Amelia Clemenco, manager of Waffle Frolic. “I think the whole idea is that there’s a lot of foot traffic.”
For some students, visiting Applefest was their first time at the Commons. Lizzie Bach ’18 said she visited “a lot of stores [she] never would have because the Commons was open” and plans to “come back to those stores and do additional shopping.”
Ithacan locals who visit Applefest annually said they have noticed a difference from past years because of the construction.
“The renovated Commons ‘feels cleaner,’” said Zoe Zervos, a seventeen year old from Ithaca who attended the festival with her friends. “I like the atmosphere better.”
However, the development was not without its criticisms. Seventeen year old Lizzy King, nostalgic of the Commons she grew up in, said the festival “seems less Ithaca-y” and “didn’t feel like official Applefest.”
While not everyone has embraced the new environment, many expressed appreciation for the lack of construction. Lori Freer, an Ithacan local visiting the festival with her family, explained that “it was much harder to get around” last year because of the construction. The completion of the renovations has made it much easier to navigate the festival.
“It’s […] just a lot more exciting to have it on the Commons,” Clemenco said.