Summerfest: Park party, St. Stephen’s art gallery offer weekend entertainment
A trolley, a pony, and a farmers’ market — the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Summerfest has been reinvented to attract people of all ages into downtown Ridgefield for everything from shopping to eating to art gazing on Saturday, July 20.
The free, two-part event will feature a kids-oriented session from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a session geared for adults from 4 to 7:30 that evening. At both times, there will be live music and other entertainment in Ballard Park and a pop-up art gallery inside St. Stephen’s North Hall that will feature artists-in-residence from the Ridgefield Pride Arts Center.
“I thought it would be interesting to gear the early part of the day towards families with kids and have our vendors offer attractions and entertainment that fit that demographic,” said Kim Bova, the chamber’s executive director. “Similarly, if a certain vendor can’t make the early session or they have a business that’s geared more towards adults, I wanted to give them another option and some flexibility. Some will be setting up for the morning and leaving around 2, others will setting up between 2 and 4 and then there will be those who stay the whole day.”
Animals are expected to help fill out the park, too.
“Rising Star Horse Rescue is bringing their ambassador pony Pixie and there will be dogs from ROAR and greyhounds from Connecticut Greyhound Adoption,” Bova said. “... The farmers’ market we think will complement what we have in the park and attract even more people because of its universal summer appeal.”
Main Street will remain open throughout the day, with many of the brick and mortar shops offering summer sales and displaying products on the sidewalk outside their respective storefronts.
Bova, who took over the Chamber in September 2018, said it wasn’t a hard decision moving the party out of the streets and back into Ballard Park where it was in held in 2017.
“For this event to be a success, it has to be designed to benefit all the participants,” she said. “We wanted to give our members more options during the day and at night, and that’s what led us to splitting the activities into two time slots in the park. Another big goal was to make sure we were working with the downtown merchants — the brick and mortar businesses, and one of the things we found out talking to them was that they felt they lost foot traffic when the road was closed.
“We don’t want to discourage customers from coming to the Main Street stores,” Bova added. “Our goal is to do the opposite. We want to encourage the flow of people, not take away from it.”
That’s why Bova is taking advantage of St. Stephen’s generosity and having the North Hall become another point of attraction during the day.
“In theory, it creates the ideal pedestrian loop,” the Chamber director said. “We have created bookends on Main Street at Ballard Park and St. Stephen’s. We think both will be attractions. The art gallery might even be some people’s first destination, and that’s exciting to think about. ... We want people to stop in there and see these artists in the middle of their creative process. It’s great for people to see art as it’s really happening.”
The return of the trolley
Pedestrian traffic isn’t the only aspect of Summerfest receiving a face-lift this year.
Bova took aim at the parking situation in downtown Ridgefield, theorizing that if she encouraged residents to park at East Ridge Middle School, then she could reduce the number of cars in and around the park. This year there will be a trolley to transport attendees from East Ridge Road to Main Street.
“Who doesn’t love a trolley?” Bova said. “The HART trolley hasn’t been seen in Ridgefield in years, and thanks to the help of First Selectman Rudy Marconi we’re able to bring it back. It’s going to be great.”
During the early session, a SPHERE bus will also help take commuters from the school to the festival. Both vehicles will work on a continuous loop throughout the day.
“The transportation for this event is very fitting for Ridgefield,” Bova said. “I think it’ll be fun for people to get out of their cars at East Ridge and not have to worry about parking. ... It gives them an incentive to park off-site and it will lessen the congestion downtown. It’s always better to be proactive with parking.”
While ensuring people get into town is crucial, getting them to shop — and eat — locally is the ultimate goal.
“We’re encouraging the brick and mortar businesses to offer summer sales that weekend and create sidewalk displays that make people want to engage as they come into town,” Bova said. “Some of our restaurants will also be offering lunch specials, and there won’t be any food trucks competing with them this year. We want people to eat at the wonderful establishments we have here in Ridgefield.”
It will be Bova’s first Summerfest. She said her plan was made with a lot of care and thought.
“It’s always been about doing the right thing for the right reasons with the right execution ... we want everyone to benefit.” she said.
Bach2Rock is the Summerfest Soundstage Sponsor and their students will be performing as well as engaging kids with a Zumba class at 11:30 and an Irish step dancing at 12:30.
“We have three new fitness clubs, and they will all be there,” Bova said. “I expect they’ll also have things planned to keep everyone moving.”
Vendors who stay or open up for the late afternoon session in Ballard Park will be catering to the adult crowd, Bova said.
“We want as many opportunities as possible for our members to meet with people,” she explained, “and that’s the beauty of having two sessions.”
She hopes that couples come into town and go out to dinner at one of the town’s new restaurants.
“We have so many new places this year to try out,” she said. “We hope people pencil this in as a date night.”
Sharing is caring
Summerfest is a rain or shine event.
Bova said she couldn’t have done the planning without the help of Ridgefield Parks and Recreation, the event’s co-sponsor.
“Nothing happens without them” she said. “They’re giving us this great opportunity to welcome everyone into town. We just need good weather.”
The other event sponsors include Union Savings Bank, Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling, Fairfield County Bank and Webster Bank.
“I’m excited for my first Summerfest and to bring some new ideas to it,” Bova said, “but I couldn’t have done it without our sponsors. And definitely couldn’t have done it without St. Stephen’s. They’ve been huge for us. I can’t thank them enough. ...
“Summerfest has been a community event that’s been happening for a long time,” she added. “This year, the goal was to make it fresh and we feel we did that. Our members are excited to participate, they love being in the park and I think the shops on Main Street are excited to have the road open again and to have people come out of the park and out of St. Stephen’s to shop and eat local. We all want the same thing — the chance to share all the things that our town has to offer and to do it on a great summer day.”