A popular Palmer garden fair needs a new organizer after the chamber of commerce bows out

PALMER — A one-day summer art and garden festival that draws thousands of visitors to downtown Palmer is looking for a new organizer after local chamber of commerce officials decided to end their participation.

The annual Midsummer Garden and Art Faire, scheduled for July 15, will be canceled unless a local nonprofit takes it over, the Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce said last week in a Facebook post.

The garden fair features about 70 vendors, live music and interactive craft booths on a grassy area between the Palmer Public Library and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough administration building.

Unlike some of the city’s other events, which cater to locals, the midsummer fair draws shoppers from Anchorage and beyond, vendors say. The event has been put on annually since 2005, and moved into downtown Palmer from the nearby state fairgrounds in 2010. The chamber assumed responsibility in 2020.

Chamber officials said this week that they expect the event to continue this year under a new organizer, though one has yet to be named.

They said the decision came because the chamber needs to reduce the number of events it oversees to make the best use of existing volunteers and to focus more time on other chamber efforts, like business owner education. They don’t plan to cut any other events.

Dear Chamber Members and Palmer residents, In light of discussions at our most recent strategic planning session, where...

Posted by Palmer Chamber on Thursday, April 25, 2024

The post announcing the chamber’s decision generated hundreds of comments, many bemoaning the potential loss of a beloved summer event. Some wondered why the decision wasn’t publicly shared sooner. A number of chamber members said the post was the first they’d heard of the struggle to staff the garden fair.


The garden fair decision joins a recent series of kerfuffles involving Palmer chamber events.

In March, the chamber backtracked on a plan to cut the number of food vendors at the popular Friday Fling market amid broad protests from the public. The move had been aimed at protecting sales at nearby brick-and-mortar businesses, officials said in a letter announcing the change.

In 2022, an attempt to rebrand the Colony Days and Colony Christmas events to remove the word “colony” was met by community backlash, a near-immediate reversal, and the resignation of several chamber board members. The festivals celebrate the area’s New Deal farm colony roots; officials at the time said the decision was intended to make the event more inclusive of the region’s Alaska Native people and general history.

Chamber officials in an interview Monday said the Midsummer Garden and Art Faire is a one-day event during a very busy time of year and can be easily passed off to a new organizer.

Several nonprofits have contacted the chamber since the cancellation announcement, officials said. They said they would help anyone who takes over by sharing information including a past vendor list and a refreshed event logo.

Officials said they’ve been weighing a change for more than a year and started looking for a new event organizer in December. They made the public cancellation announcement now, fewer than three months before the scheduled July fair date, in hopes that a sense of urgency would inspire someone to step forward.

“We can’t keep kicking the ball down the road,” Sherman Leifer, who sits on the chamber board as past president and co-owns the Palmer Bar, said Monday. “We want this thing to succeed, we want it to go forward. We love the event, but it’s not in line with all of our goals.”

Leifer said that the board’s decision to offload the garden fair was not directly influenced by a concern that funneling customers to a street fair hurts foot traffic and sales at nearby brick-and-mortar shops, including his. But whether events help or harm those businesses is an ongoing discussion, he said.

Owners of several chamber member businesses said they hope the chamber isn’t reducing its support for street fairs in general.

Instead of eliminating activities that draw shoppers from out of town, businesses should find a way to have a presence at the festival, said David Boortz, who owns 203 Kombucha and co-owns Lekker Coffee and Baking Co.

“You don’t get to say, ‘It used to be better, and you have to stop doing what you’re doing because it’s impacting our business,’” Boortz said Tuesday, referring to local stores that may feel the events reduce customer traffic.

The 10-person chamber board of directors voted last week to end the chamber’s role in the fair. A vote tally wasn’t immediately available and meeting minutes won’t be approved by the board until later this month, according to the chamber’s executive director, Erin Velander, who was hired earlier this year.

Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.