The Taylor Street Little Italy Fest has been canceled for the second year, with organizers saying holding the event would put an additional strain on already struggling businesses.
The announcement was made jointly by the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association and Onesti Entertainment, the organization that puts the event, which typically draws tens of thousands of people to the neighborhood.
“This setback is a function of the times,” Mary Howard, secretary of Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association’s board, said in a statement.
Ron Onesti, president of Onesti Entertainment, said it was a difficult decision to cancel the festival again, but he couldn’t host the event in good conscience.
“The main reason is our vendors, especially Taylor Street restaurants, are still struggling and are having a hard time finding help and workers,” Onesti said. “It is no secret that labor is a problem for everyone, and on Taylor Street it is really prominent. Some businesses already have to close on Sundays or reduce their hours to get by.”
Onesti said the festival, normally held on the second or third weekend of August, would bring attention and much needed business to neighborhood restaurants and businesses, but that would come at a cost.
“I would be asking people to put their home-base restaurant at risk by moving their limited staff for hours at an outdoor stand,” Onesti said. “They can’t possibly manage both locations on a skeleton staff.”
There’s also a gamble with participating in the festival, Onesti said, given variables such as the weather.
“These people have already been shut down for months, and I can’t in good faith ask them to risk any money, and if it were to rain, they are losing out on a lot of money,” Onesti said.
Then there is the adverse effect the festival might have on businesses along Taylor Street, Onesti said. Streets would be blocked off from traffic and other businesses, like a hardware store or a dry cleaner, could lose customers.
“With all these businesses closed for nearly a year, my conscience didn’t want to hurt anyone, and the slightest chance of hurting any business didn’t sit well with me,” Onesti said.
The other factor was rising COVID-19 case numbers and the emergence of the Delta variant.
“Sure, Lollapalooza is going on right now, but I don’t have control over Lollapalooza,” Onesti said. “For me, it was much more of a personal reason regarding the health safety of our guests.”
Onesti said he can’t predict what the pandemic has planned for Chicago over the next year, but for now, he plans to bring the festival back in 2022.