WILMINGTON — Due to concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, Old Home Week will not happen this year.
The event, which has been going on every decade for 130 years, was rescheduled to Aug. 5 to 8, 2021.
"This is the first time it's been postponed or changed but that's all right," said Nicki Steel, chairwoman of the Old Home Week Committee. "It will be remembered for that."
Activities will include a big parade, a block party downtown and a "memory wall" that includes photos of people who were born, died or moved to Wilmington in the last 10 years.
Steel described the celebration as "too important a tradition not to carry on." She said no one ever suggested canceling it.
When the pandemic initially started to affect daily life here, Steel thought maybe things would be all right by August. Then after a couple of weeks, she said, she realized that probably was not going to happen.
"Old Home Week is just such a feeling of connection and getting together with people you haven't seen in years, I just can't imagine having it where you don't feel comfortable being around people," she said. "This is not like a festival where you go and you don't really know anybody and it doesn't really matter. This is built around community and connection, and you have to be able to have that."
On Thursday, the committee voted 5-0 to postpone the event until next year. Steel said a couple of committee members did not attend the meeting but had weighed in beforehand.
The committee had been planning to vote on whether to postpone the event during a June meeting. Steel said a couple of attendees at Thursday's meeting suggested putting off the decision for a little longer but the committee felt it needed to be made now.
Those who suggested waiting were "not adamant about it," she said. "They were just like, 'Things are changing.'"
Steel said she agreed but pointed out that holding off longer might affect reservations made at local inns and restaurants. She does not anticipate the committee losing much money for postponing.
The committee paid to mail out information, which will not be recovered. T-shirts and tote bags already made will continue to be sold as "limited edition" items since this year's dates are printed on them.
The committee is returning money to the town of Dover, which was going to sponsor one of the bands. Steel expects to ask for those funds again next year. She also anticipates using the same company the committee planned to use for tents and Cronin Co. of Wilmington again for a new run of shirts.
Committee members received formal assurances from people and businesses to sponsor parts of the celebration, and started reaching out to them about moving forward. But after closures and job losses associated with the pandemic, Steel said "there was no way" they could ask for such help during these economic times. She also felt uncomfortable requesting businesses donate items to a silent auction.
"It's not the appropriate time," she said.
For now, the committee will spread the word on the new dates. Then, Steel expects to have a short hiatus.
"We plan on using virtually the same schedule," she said. "I haven't been in touch with all the people who are heading up events but the few I have been in touch with were like, 'Yeah, we'll definitely keep doing this.'"
Steel said committee members have done a lot of work and none of it will go to waste. Information will continue to be shared on its Facebook page and at wilmingtonohw2020.org.
"Wilmington's Old Home Week started in 1890 and has been held every 10 (or 11?) years since," states the website. "It will soon be time to come together again and celebrate."
It is Steel's expectation that next year's event will be even larger than the one forecast for this year.
"We had anticipated it was going to be pretty darn big this time," she said, having used social media to increase outreach. "And I have a feeling that by next summer, people are really, really going to want to reconnect again."
Hopefully by next summer, she said, "we'll be back to maybe not exactly normal but much, much closer."
In 2010, Steel estimated there were at least 400 people in the parade — including 150 members of the Boyd family. Counting those watching, she said at least 2,000 people were there.
People travel from all over the United States to attend the celebration, Steel said, noting that some have even come from overseas. She recalled Janet Boyd of Boyd Family Farm saying that the event could not be done without hugs.
"That just summed it up for me," said Steel.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.