DOWNTOWN — Several vendors have pulled out of a vegan food fest being held this weekend because it isn’t requiring people to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative coronavirus test.
Vegandale — which is expected to draw thousands of people to Grant Park on Saturday — announced on Tuesday it will not require attendees to prove they’re vaccinated or to provide a negative COVID-19 test to get into the festival. Masks will be required in lines and crowds, according to a post on Instagram, but vendors are worried the mask rule won’t be enforced.
Now, some vendors and attendees are scrambling to figure out what to do.
“I just assumed that because Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest all required a vaccine card or a negative COVID-19 test, this festival would do the same things,” said Heather Bodine-Lederman, owner of Pie, Pie My Darling.
Representatives from Vegandale did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Bodine-Lederman’s vegan sweet shop was slated to be one of the largest vendors at Vegandale. But she decided to pull out Wednesday morning after festival organizers told her they would not change their COVID-19 policy, she said.
“The representative was very nice and non-judgmental, which I was actually really appreciative of,” Bodine-Lederman said. “They didn’t shame me, but they did say that they’re not changing this policy.”
Bodine-Lederman and her staff were also alarmed by comments on Vegandale’s first Instagram post announcing its COVID-19 policy. It attracted comments from people posting anti-vaccine and COVID-19 denialist statements, she said.
“This was all day long. The comments were there, and they weren’t being monitored, and no one was shutting down these people that are COVID deniers,” Bodine-Lederman said. “I just felt I did not want to be a part of it.”
The comments were turned off on Tuesday night, and the post was later removed and replaced with another post.
The city has allowed outdoor festivals — including significantly bigger ones, like Lollapalooza — but many of those have required people to show they’re fully vaccinated or have a negative test. Large sporting events don’t require attendees to do that, but guests are asked to mask when indoors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people wear masks in crowded outdoor settings if they’re in COVID-19 hot spots like Chicago.
Marc Bannes, co-owner of Vagabond Vegan Club, said the fest is expected to bring in 18,000 people. He said a representative from Vegandale told him the organizers will enforce masking at the event — but he remains wary.
“Having worked in customer service and in customer-facing positions, I don’t see how a mask mandate is going to be practically enforced — unless they’re hiring hundreds and hundreds of people to essentially babysit this crowd that may or may not be vaxxed and may or may not care at all about COVID-19 protocols,” Bannes said.
Festival organizers told Nicole Sopko, a representative from Liberation Donuts, that they had hired “additional security” but did not provide specifics, she said.
“I don’t know how that helps,” Sopko said.
Neither Pie, Pie My Darling, Liberation Donuts nor Vagabond Vegan Club were refunded for the vendor tickets they were required to purchase for space at the festival. It is unclear whether attendees who choose to cancel as a result of the COVID-19 policy will get refunds.
Pulling out of the festival has also put some vendors in a precarious position for the weekend, as they now have to find a way to sell excess products.
“Regardless of the size of our overall business, we’re still hurt and taking a hit by walking away from an event like this,” Sopko said. “There are costs that we don’t know if we’re going to be able to recoup.”
Some vendors might be less able to absorb a loss in profit from pulling out of the fest, forcing them to make a difficult choice between the safety of their staff and their business.
“We have a storefront, so we can try to figure something out in order to sell the stuff we’ve made,” Bodine-Lederman said. “But there are other vendors who are popping up there and they don’t have a storefront. They’re screwed if they don’t do it, and basically stuck.”
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