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Apple Festival plants a seed of innovation for businesses to blossom

The Ithaca Commons during Apple Harvest Festival (Photo by Brianna Warrant/Ithaca Week)

Apple Harvest Festival showcases local vendors, such as South Hill Cider and Blackduck Cidery, that put up tents lining the Ithaca Commons. These tents are often placed in front of existing stores along the commons, which poses an obstacle for these businesses during the festival. These businesses found innovative ways to make themselves visible from the vendors in front of them to overcome this adversity.

Opportunities and adversities

The 41st annual Apple Harvest Festival returned to Ithaca this year from Sep. 29 to Oct. 1. Vendors eagerly lined up along both sides of the commons and the surrounding streets.

Existing businesses located in the downtown commons spent countless hours preparing for more than 70,000 people to attend the festival. They ensured their stores were well organized, had extra staff on hand, and brought out new products.

Located at the core of Apple Festival, business owners saw the festival as an opportunity to put their businesses on the map.

Todd Kurzweil, advisor of Sunny Days of Ithaca and Uncle Toddy’s Ithacan Flea Market said Apple Fest brings in people regionally and may bring people back in the future for the holiday season. 

“If we’re not making a sale today, maybe we’re making a friend down the line,” Kurzweil said.

Greta Perl, owner of Alphabet Soup, expressed a similar attitude towards the exposure. 

“The benefits are getting a lot of people into the downtown area and, especially this time of year, as a toy store with Christmas on the horizon, it gets into people’s heads to revisit,” said Perl.

Greta Perl, owner of Alphabet Soup holding an apple jellycat (Photo by Brianna Warrant/Ithaca Week)

Although the festival’s theme is all things apple, these business owners feel as if they were an equal part of the festival as the pop-up vendors, but attendees may not feel the same. 

“I think some people are coming for the apples and that’s not what I sell, but I think people don’t always see our store as part of the festival,” said Perl. 

These owners faced adversity in making their businesses visible with the influx of venue stands surrounding them.

Placement Matters

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance was the host organization for Apple Fest, where board member Benjamin Sandberg said their primary purpose was to serve the vendors in their Business Improvement District.

“We tried to pair up businesses with vendors outside that make sense,” said Sandberg. “Every year we try and get feedback so we can adjust the footprint of all the vendors and it means bringing in some extra gaps in between places, breaking them up.

Business owners try to make their voices heard when planning events like Apple Festival.

“We’ve talked with the event planners about what kind of booths are outside to coordinate with what’s in front of your store with what’s outside,” said Perl. “Not to compete, but not to be too far unrelated.” 

Contrary to this communication, Todd Kurzweil said the venue placement may have worked for some businesses but not all. A maple booth was placed directly in front of his store and was one of his competitors as he also sells maple inside.

Top: The front doors of Sunny Days of Ithaca, Bottom: the venue directly outside of Sunny Days of Ithaca’s doors (Photo by Brianna Warrant/Ithaca Week)

Kurzweil said in the future there needs to be more communication between planners and business owners, including information regarding frequency and duration of meetings of subgroups to prepare.

“I have tried over the years to express my ideas and sometimes I am not perceived or received in the way I am intended to,” said Kurzweil. “Maybe the change I want won’t happen but there will at least be a good discussion that will feel like it’s being evaluated.”

Becoming visible in the shadows

Despite potential blockage in front of their stores, businesses found ways to innovate outside to bring customers inside. 

Megan Vidler, owner of Home Green Home, said she placed a plant table outside to promote her business.

Home Green Home’s plant table outside of their store (Photo by Brianna Warrant/Ithaca Week)

“The party is outside and we want to invite people to come inside and shop,” said Vidler. “It gives us a fun presence on the sidewalk and it makes a big difference to drive sales.”

Sunny Days of Ithaca placed a table where customers could color an Apple Festival template outside and bring it inside the store to be made into a button. They also had their store vendors table outside throughout the weekend to promote their work.

Alphabet Soup promoted apple jellycats throughout the store and at the checkout counter. 

Benjamin Sandberg said the importance of including existing businesses in the commons during festivals has a continued impact.

“A thriving downtown community relies on the businesses that are here year round,” said Sandberg.

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