Ferry Festa 2019

Charley Cok and Zachary Deloach dance during the Ferry Festa last October.

For the first time since 2002, the annual Ferry Festa in Dobbs Ferry has been cancelled — a casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The elaborate street fair, held on Cedar and Main streets on the first Saturday in October, would be too risky, according to its organizer, Paddy Steinschneider, president of Gotham Design & Community Development.

Arguments for and against staging the Festa, which draws thousands of attendees, were posted in the 10522 Facebook group last month. On Aug. 24, Steinschneider posted his response: 

“From the standpoint of promoting a gathering that is all about lots of people getting together for a full day of fun, as much as that would feel great right now, [it] would also bring far too many risks,” he wrote. “These risks are real, as the colleges that started up in real time found out so quickly. There is no way that we can have the Festa in the form that it has been enjoyed since 2002.”

Steinschneider and special events producer Michelle Adams, whose husband, chef Chris Vergara, co-owns Harper’s restaurant on Main Street, conceived alternative ideas to aid restaurants and shops. Steinschneider also asked for input from Mayor Vincent Rossillo, the Dobbs Ferry Board of Trustees, the Rivertowns Chamber of Commerce, and Interim Village Administrator Ed Manley, who is also the building inspector. 

“I’m always trying to get buy-in from positions of authority,” he commented. 

Steinschneider hopes that a discussion at the board of trustees meeting on Sept. 8 will result in a substitute event that will be safe for attendees and draw attention to downtown businesses, many of which are struggling. Businesses that operate outside the village could also be involved. 

“They could set up on Main and Cedar in front of empty stores, or in front of a store that’s not open at that time,” Steinschneider said. 

Rather than 15,000 people, the event could aim to draw 1,500. Instead of running from 1-8 p.m., as the Ferry Festa did, hours could be reduced to 5-8 p.m. Last year, 130 vendors and all but two restaurants participated. The event could be similar to “Dine Out Dobbs Ferry,” which was held on June 13, from 5-9 p.m., with Main and Cedar streets closed to traffic after 3 p.m., and restaurant tables set up in the streets, 6 feet apart. 

Regardless of what replaces Ferry Festa, Steinschneider stated, “The concern is getting the word out that it is not the Festa, to make it clear that this is not large groups of people hanging out. What we wouldn’t want to see happening is hundreds of people showing up expecting that this is the regular thing, and not practicing social distancing. It would have to be well-publicized in advance — the nature of it, what the rules are.” 

There would be no stages, no bands, and no bouncy castles, he elaborated, but restaurants could feature individual musicians, jazz combos, and the like.

While Steinschneider joked that he constitutes the whole Ferry Festa Committee — “I’m always available to take the blame for everything” — all street events must be approved by Dobbs Ferry Police Chief Manuel “Rick” Guevera, who is most responsible for safety in the community. Technically, a mayor can overrule a police chief, Steinschneider explained, “but I think that would be crazy.” 

Since 2002, the Ferry Festa has been postponed once, due to a tropical storm. Rescheduling proved to be more complicated than cancelling. So a new policy was adopted: If circumstances made it impossible to hold the event as planned, then it would be cancelled. Vendors could either get back half their money or apply it to the next Ferry Festa.

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