Tonawanda News — Organizers of the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas like to joke that the yearly festival doesn’t begin until the beer tents go up.
While that will not take place until Thursday, the process by which members prepare for the festival began 11 months ago, and often involves planning right down feet and inches.
Whether planning where many of the 48 vendor booths are placed, the timing of when they set up, communication on security, traffic, garbage pick-ups and the placement of rides, the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the event takes time, patience and a team of veteran participants, according to Larry Denef, president of Canal Fest.
The year-long process this time around really gathered steam about two weeks ago, Denef said, as the group began going over lists, double-checking practically everything and fielding calls from participants with last-minute questions.
“It’s not an easy set-up,” Denef said. “There’s a lot of coordination that goes into it. Right now we’re in the middle of touching base with people, letting them know where they need to be and making sure they’re good to go.”
Denef said one of the more trying aspects of organizing the event is deciding where the vendors will be arranged and when they will bring in their gear and take it down.
“It’s not a free for all,” he said, “and it’s key to making everyone fit. We had a situation about five years ago that became a big mess. So we kind of honed in on that, not only loading out but loading in to the event. If you’re one foot off the mark it makes a big difference and if we don’t have it exact some of the vendors won’t fit. If somebody jumps the gun and doesn’t do what they’re supposed to it causes trouble.”
Denef said he estimates that between about 180,000 to 200,000 people attend the Canal Fest on average. While requests stream in each year from private businesses looking to capitalize on the crowds, the leadership of the festival feels that for the time being, it is satisfied allowing only local non-profits to set up booths, many of whom depend on the annual financial gains to make ends meet.
“I get a lot of inquiries,” he said. “We could make it as large as the Erie County Fair there’s so much interest in the event. We’d take over half of the cities. We only have so much room. I don’t see any change in space allocation. What we have is manageable.”
The Canal Fest hierarchy meets once a month throughout the year, leaving the door open for input from non-members, Denef said.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “A lot of people think that the city runs this. I think it’s important to remember that nobody makes a penny off of this. It all goes to the non-profits.”