PITTSFIELD — The Berkshires’ biggest annual holiday celebration will have to be put on hold for another year.
The Fourth of July Parade has fallen victim to COVID-19 for a second year in a row. This also is the first time in the event’s 197-year history that the parade has been canceled in consecutive years.
But, organizers haven’t folded the tent quite yet. They will meet next week to brainstorm ideas for safe, remote ways to mark the holiday, and for a possible parade of some variety later in the year.
Although Gov. Charlie Baker will allow events such as parades to operate at 50 percent capacity starting May 29, enforcing that at the Fourth of July Parade would have been a logistical nightmare, city officials said.
“Ensuring and adhering to this capacity level would be a major challenge for an event such as the Fourth of July parade which attracts thousands of attendees each year,” Roberta McCulloch-Dews, director of administrative services, said in an email.
Previous parades have brought more than 50,000 people downtown. Using that number as an example, Parade Committee President Peter Marchetti laid out the challenges of trying to manage a parade crowd consisting of 25,000 people.
“We don’t have a ticket purchase or one point of access so that we could know when we reach that number,” he told The Eagle. “And then two, if that was feasible, when you get to that number, what do you do with all of the other people who are coming?
“So, you’re reaching your capacity, and you have a family traveling from New York,” he said. “What do you do?”
What the city will do in place of the parade still is up in the air. Last year, Pittsfield Community Television ran highlights of previous parades to fill the void, but doing that again might not exactly excite viewers.
“I don’t know how you come back with the ‘Best of the Best 2,’ “ Marchetti said, jokingly.
The Parade Committee will meet Wednesday to discuss options for marking the Independence Day holiday. One idea that has been debated is asking Pittsfield residents to decorate their homes in festive flair, similar to what the city of New Orleans did after the traditional Mardi Gras parades were canceled this year.
Marchetti said the committee will focus on “what we can do to make the Fourth of July fun.”
Another, more untraditional, option could be holding a celebration in the fall.
“Now, obviously, you’re not going to have the Fourth of July parade in the middle of September, but could we craft a parade that was kind of back to the near-normal type of thing?” he said. “Those are things that we are going to be talking about on our [Wednesday] parade meeting.”
Because the status of the parade was unclear until recently, the committee had held off on launching fundraising efforts. But, if plans move forward with a fall celebration, Marchetti said, the committee will send out new letters and applications.
Contributions generated during that campaign would go toward next year’s parade, since money already has been raised for a celebration this year.
The Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade first was held in 1824, and every year tens of thousands of people gather downtown to watch the two-hour celebration, one of the largest such events in the Northeast.
The only other years without a parade were 1946 and 1977.
“Just as the city is disappointed, the Parade Committee is disappointed,” Marchetti said. “We hope to be able to come out with some fun ideas or an alternative within the next week.”