Yarmouth Clam Festival: ‘Guaranteed income each year’

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YARMOUTH — No one’s debating whether the annual Clam Festival is good for local businesses and organizations.

How people measure that success, however, can be a matter for discussion.

“It definitely brings a notoriety to Yarmouth, which has measurable and immeasurable effects for Yarmouth businesses,” Economic Development Director Denise Clavette said.

The 51st annual Clam Festival is Friday to Sunday, July 15-17, along Main Street. The Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce, the host of the event, estimates that 100,000-140,000 people attend the festival each year.

Clavette said she doesn’t know how much money the festival generates for the town, and the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t disclose the amount. Local businesses and nonprofits said the festival definitely brings in more money, but exact numbers aren’t available.

About three dozen nonprofits have volunteers at the festival running booths and selling food, with all of the money from sales going back to the organizations.

The Ski Club, a booster group that supports the School Department’s ski teams, has had a booth at the festival for about 25 years. Sales of fried clams account for 60-70 percent of the organization’s annual operating budget, according to the club’s president, Tony Cowles.

“Not only does the festival provide great exposure and awareness for all the booster groups, it also creates the perfect opportunity for fundraising,” Cowles said.

Miles Hunt, of the Downeasters Chorus, said sales from the festival account for almost 50 percent of the group’s annual operating income, not counting membership dues.

“It’s a huge impact,” Hunt said. “It’s like guaranteed income each year.”

The chorus has had a booth for more than 20 years and sells lime rickeys, a popular drink at the festival. They also perform a free show each year.

“Not only is it a financial impact, it’s a community impact because we gain new audiences,” Hunt said.

Chelsie DiConzo of the Chamber of the Commerce said the festival is a great way for local nonprofits to fundraise in a way that benefits the whole town.

“It really gives these organizations an opportunity to raise money without over-soliciting,” she said.

Clavette said it’s important for local nonprofits to be supported, because many residents work for them. She said the town recently conducted a marketing survey and found that 15 percent of wage earners in Yarmouth work at local nonprofits.

For-profit businesses also benefit from the festival, since it tends to bring in more customers.

“The only time we’re not slammed is during the (Friday night) parade, but other than that it’s non-stop from open to close,” Leticia Dorazio, assistant manager of Dunkin Donuts at 242 Main St., said.

Dorazio said the store’s full staff works all weekend, and additional employees are brought in from other Dunkin Donuts stores to help out. She said they usually see triple the amount of business, compared with normal weekends, and they order double the amount of stock.

“We go through it quicker than we can make it,” Dorazio said.

Peachy’s Smoothie Cafe, at 301 Main St., also orders extra supplies during the festival.

“It’s crazy,” Colleen Drew, the assistant manager, said. “You get super-good business during that time.”

Chris Kyle, co-owner of Pat’s Pizza at 791 U.S. Route 1, said his restaurant does better during the festival if the weather is very hot or rainy, because people want to seek shelter.

“It’s weather dependent to a certain extent, but it helps a ton,” Kyle said. “The overall impact is huge.”

Handy’s Market and Cafe, at 367 Main St., sees increased business, but mostly for foods like ice cream and items like sunscreen. Because it’s a little removed from the center of the festival, co-owner Sean Ireland said they don’t see as many new customers.

“What we get most of is Yarmouth people, because we’re near the residential section,” Ireland said. “In some ways, Handy’s is like a safe haven for residents from the festival.”

Matt Chappell, of Gather, a restaurant in the heart of the festival at 189 Main St., said the festival has exposed the business to new people. But he also said operating the business during such a busy weekend can be difficult.

“It’s taken a few years to figure it out, but mostly it’s a positive weekend with some challenging points,” he said. “I say positive because we see many new faces curious about Gather, wanting to try us out.”

Chappell said the most challenging part of the festival is getting his staff to the restaurant, because it’s hard to find parking. He said most of them have to take a shuttle.

On the Sunday of the festival, Gather shuts down because Main Street is closed for the festival bike race.

“It’s an important event for the town, so we just roll with it,” Chappell said.

Clavette said some businesses shut down for the festival, but that it doesn’t always mean they’re losing business.

“Even if someone does shut down or have reduced hours, people are walking downtown and becoming aware of businesses they hadn’t known about before, and then they come back,” she said.

DiConzo said people often come back to Yarmouth after the festival because they want to go to a local business they saw.

“It’s nice having people come in and recognize what we have in town,” she said.

A 2009 study conducted by the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce found that most festival-goers come from surrounding towns, but that people from 13 countries and 32 states also attended.

“The economic impact is pretty amazing because we’re bringing all these people to our sleepy village,” DiConzo said.

DiConzo said people call the chamber saying they want to come back again and that a few people have called to say they moved to Yarmouth after visiting during the festival.

People don’t move to Yarmouth for the festival, though. DiConzo said the festival opens people’s eyes to everything else the town has to offer.

“Yarmouth kind of promotes itself by being a beautiful village right on the coast of Maine,” she said. “The clam fest is just a way of exposing people to the town.”

Clavette, whose job is to attract new businesses, said the festival is a draw for business owners, but agreed with DiConzo that it’s not the reason people want to come to Yarmouth.

“Having great schools, a quintessential downtown, the clam fest, great parks and green space – it’s all a mix,” Clavette said. “They’re all reasons for why businesses move to Yarmouth.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

With lawn chairs in place to reserve space for Friday night’s parade, Main Street in Yarmouth on Monday looked ready for the 51st annual Clam Festival, which takes place July 15-17.

The poster for the 2016 Yarmouth Clam Festival, created by artist Lea Peterson.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.