For 55 years in a row, Rome has enjoyed the toe-tappin’, cider-sippin’ fun of the Chiaha Harvest Fair, but folks will have to wait until next year to experience it again.
“This year has been full of unprecedented considerations,” said Chiaha Guild President, Jennifer Selman. “As much as it pains us, we feel that the safest and most logical thing to do under the circumstances is to cancel this year’s festival.”
In 1964, Connie Conn, with the help of her friends, created a festival in the parking lot behind her antique store on Calhoun Avenue with the goal of promoting the many talented artists that lived in the area. Her employee, John Clemmons, served hot cider from a large cauldron over an open fire, and that tradition has continued every fall since.
“As long as I’ve been involved with the festival, I never would have expected to see a time when the festival couldn’t happen, but it is simply the right thing to do in the interest of keeping our artists and vendors and patrons safe,” said Andi Beyer, co-executive director of the event.
Since 2002, the festival has been held each year at Ridge Ferry Park, using the park stage as the anchor for the festival grounds. Prior to that year, the festival spent many years in Heritage Park, and before that was held in several other locations in the downtown Rome area.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Chiaha Guild board had made the decision that is was, once again, time for Chiaha to transition to a new location, the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds.
“After years of dealing with bad weather luck, resulting in mud and standing water and other issues, we decided it was time to find a new environment,” said Selman. “We have enjoyed our time at the park, but the need for grounds improvements and the ever-growing footprint required for festival activities made it necessary for us to seek some higher ground.”
The need to postpone the festival for this year means that organizers have an extra year to plan for exciting new opportunities afforded by the new location.
“Next year will be bigger and better than ever!” promises Beyer.
While the closing of the festival for this year is a sad thing, indeed, the festival’s organizers are working out new ways for their patrons to access the arts and crafts and music they have grown to love over the years.
“We are all sad about not holding the festival this year, but we are introducing the “Chiaha Harvest Fair Marketplace” on Facebook to give our artists, musicians and vendors the chance to share their recent work with customers online,” explains Monica Sheppard, Co-Executive Director of the festival.
“While it won’t be the same as strolling through booths on a lovely fall day, this platform will give you a much longer time to enjoy access to the beautiful work that you have enjoyed purchasing in the past.”
Through the Marketplace, artists and craftsmen will be able to offer works for sale starting as early as mid-August and running indefinitely.
“This is an amazing opportunity to buy directly from the artists, just like you would do if you were seeing them in person,” Sheppard explained. “The only difference is you will be able to shop for those unique holiday gifts well towards Christmas, rather than trying to remember everyone in a short period of time.”
The Chiaha Harvest Fair will be introducing the new Marketplace public group on their Facebook page soon, along with highlights of Chiaha’s past.