John Burrell and Les Fox, Fall Fest 1987
John Burrell and Les Fox, Fall Fest 1987

by Mary Fox

On May 12, 1975, at a regular meeting of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce the idea of Fall Festival was presented to the chamber by Heidi Rounds Widger (then owner of the Adventure Bound Ski Shop with husband Chris). The purpose was to “stimulate our economy by attracting as many people to Ellicottville as feasible.”

This landmark meeting helped set the village on a course toward being “on the map” as a thriving resort town.

The event was purposely named Fall Festival to promote it as a family event, not to be confused with Oktoberfest, which has a very different and unwanted connotation from the intended Fall Festival.

Widger proposed that Fall Festival would run on a Saturday and Sunday in October when it would coordinate with Holiday Valley’s and HoliMont’s open house weekend, the Columbus Day holiday in America, the Canadian Thanksgiving and the peak season for fall foliage.

Sixteen general ideas were proposed as possible events and exhibits to run on that weekend including an antique show and sale, a juried art show and sale, an antique auto show, live entertainment, food concessions, children’s activities, a quilt show, arboretum tours, petting zoo, industry exhibits and helicopter rides. A ski swap and chairlift rides, parties and live entertainment were also to take place at Holiday Valley and HoliMont.

Food concessions were limited to organizations within the town of Ellicottville to help them raise money for their purposes and keep the money in the area. Outside vendors wishing to participate had to be sponsored by a local organization and were required to donate a portion of their profits to them.

For the first two years of Fall Festival, merchants were asked to donate toward the cost of advertising and other expenses associated with the festival.

By the third Fall Festival, the project had accumulated enough income to be independently financed and became a three-day event with the addition of Monday.  A special Fall Festival paper was published by the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce and circulated to 7,000 addresses consisting of the mailing lists of Holiday Valley, HoliMont and the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce.

Every year since then attendance and attractions grew. The first profits realized from Fall Festival were used to purchase a new ambulance for the village.

In 1977, a Fun Run was organized with prizes for 12 different categories for a $1 entrance fee.  The Antique Show and Sale was “acclaimed the most popular area show.”

In 1987, Les Fox, president of the Chamber of Commerce was reported saying, ”the festival has drawn 20,000 to 30,000 people in past years. No winter weekend can compare to it.”

Fall Festival is one of a long line of events taking place in Ellicottville since its beginning 175 years ago. Agricultural fairs, political rallies, Fourth of July celebrations, centennial celebrations, old home days and horseracing being just a few.

Looking back to 1937, John H. Northrup, speaking at the Ellicottville Centennial Celebration said, “Ellicottville has long been renowned as a center for great celebrations. She has always attracted great crowds and has been remarkably free from the disturbing elements that usually accompany large gatherings of people. This has been frequently commented upon by outsiders. Apparently, the spirit of friendship and goodwill manifested by the townspeople attracts the better classes of visitors from elsewhere, who have uniformly been orderly and well behaved.”

As we look forward to another successful Fall Festival, we can be proud that tradition has marked it with the spirit of friendship and goodwill of the townspeople to our welcome guests.

The Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the village have implemented changes each year to improve Fall Festival.  In return, said Brian McFadden, executive director of the chamber, “We expect visitors to treat the village as their own and enjoy their stay in the most wonderful village in Western New York.”