On Wednesday, the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce announced it will no longer hold the Blossomtime Parade, which started in 1920 and has been a precursor to Ski to Sea weekend.
Chamber president and CEO Guy Occhiogrosso cited a lack of support from sponsors and volunteers, noting the difficulty in attracting parade entries, but said the chamber’s decision was more complex than that and was not made lightly.
He said all chamber events are evaluated on a regular basis, and the board decided the parade no longer made sense strategically, adding the board is focused on moving in a more sustainable direction and using the chamber’s resources and staff time more efficiently.
“This certainly was not a snap decision. This was a decision that we really had to look at. Especially from the board, from a strategic perspective, what is our best, utmost use as an organization and how can we best serve our mission statement,” Occhiogrosso said. “We’re not the only organization in the community that produces events or that could produce events. Our hope is that another organization can come in and take over this piece, this event.”
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Occhiogrosso said putting on the parade is a year-long process, but the four months prior to the May event are the most intensive.
“With the size of the Blossomtime Parade, quite a bit of logistics go into it,” Occhiogrosso said. “A lot of pre-work goes into it, and what we found is trying to get a lot of information can be difficult.”
Occhiogrosso said because of the lack of parade entries over the last several years, the four chamber staff members have had to solicit previous years’ lists for recruitment. Coupled with a steady decline in volunteers (about 50 percent), much of the work for the parade has fallen to the chamber.
Occhiogrosso said normally the parade has between eight and 15 sponsors, but this year it only had one business make a commitment. Sponsors, as well as other revenue streams, typically provide between $10,000 and $15,000, which is roughly the cost of the chamber putting on the parade, Ochiogrosso said.
The Blossomtime Parade is also one of three chamber-run events that happen during the same time period (the Junior Ski to Sea Parade and the Junior Ski to Sea are the other two). Then there’s the Fourth of July parade five weeks later.
“I think the important piece here is that junior parade and junior race are still happening. We’re still keeping the tradition,” Occhiogrosso said.
From a money standpoint, the parade has broken even for the last four or five years, he said.
The chamber also is looking to hire a full time program and events coordinator – its last left in December. The new hire will focus on producing events that are sustainable and have an impact.
“We’re really focusing on our mission. Our mission is enhancing the business community, and what the business community is saying is that they need more member programming and business resources, so a lot of our logistics and coordination will be enhancing that portion of what we do, which is what pays our bills,” he said. “Producing events are a legacy of the chamber and always will be.”
Outside of the chamber, the parade requires the city’s agencies to shoulder some of the costs. For Public Works, it takes just shy of $16,000 to run the parade, said street and maintenance supervisor Dan Larson. Between putting no parking signs out, truck time, cleaning costs and labor, there’s a lot that goes into it, he said.
Larson said the price averages out to be about the same every year. The money comes from Public Works’ general street fund, Larson said. With the chamber no longer putting on the parade, he said that money will be used on improvement projects, such as fixing roads, handicap ramps, sidewalks and solid waste.
Occhiogrosso said the chamber’s hoping that a community organization will take over the parade.
“We certainly don’t want it to go away, so we hope another organization can come in and we can help facilitate a fairly easy and smooth transition,” he said. “Our goal is to make this a transition, not an end.”
Anyone interested in taking over the parade responsibilities can email the chamber at email@example.com.