Downtown Little Falls will be a little less busy this summer with the cancellation of the 48th annual Little Falls Arts & Crafts Fair and the ninth annual Market Place Fair

The Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce’s announcement Friday, July 17, came as no surprise to local businesses such as the A.T. The Black & White, a popular downtown eatery.

“I was expecting it — that they would cancel it — because everything else has been canceled,” said Tomas Zimmerman, owner of the restaurant.

Chamber President/CEO Debora K. Boelz said the cancellation of the September event was due to governmental restrictions relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We had been putting off making the decision in the hopes that governmental restrictions would have been lifted that would have allowed for more gatherings of this type,” Boelz said.

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The weekend attracts more than 100,000 people to Little Falls in Morrison County, therefore creating challenges for social distancing “and other logistical issues with sanitation of common areas such as the food courts and restroom facilities,” according to chamber officials.

 Crowds gather to shop Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 at the Little Falls Arts and Craft Fair. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Crowds gather to shop Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 at the Little Falls Arts and Craft Fair. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“We were concerned about how we were going to open up if it was going to still be here because typically we do about 650 people on Saturday during the craft fair, so at 50% capacity we don’t know how we would have safely done that,” Zimmerman said.

The chamber sponsors the fairs for the community as an economic driver, “bringing in untold dollars to not only Little Falls and Morrison County, but the greater Central Minnesota area,” according to Boelz.

“We bring in vendors from across the country. We have a lot of people that come in from the five-state area, shoppers,” Boelz said. “And it was just too much of a risk for us to take to have our community become infected.”

The Lone Eagle Auto Club also canceled its car show and swap meet and the West Side Improvement Association will not host the 18th annual West Little Falls Antiques & Collectibles Fair slated for the same weekend as the chamber fair.

The Lone Eagle Auto Club has sponsored a car show and swap meet almost as long as the Little Falls Arts & Crafts Fair, according to chamber officials, and the West Little Falls Antiques & Collectibles Fair started more than a dozen years ago.

“I’m just disappointed that life has just been altered so much,” said Michelle Kiley, executive director at Great River Arts.

The nonprofit in downtown Little Falls is home to galleries and performing arts space but remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The venue will likely remain closed through the end of summer, according to Kiley.

“The chamber has done a great job bringing so many people to our community, to the craft fair, and also supporting so many artists and artisans at the craft fair that it’s sad it will not be going on this year,” Kiley said.

The chamber has been accepting Little Falls Arts & Crafts Fair booth fees since January. But with its cancellation, vendors can get a refund or have their fees applied to next year’s fair, which will be Sept. 11 and 12, 2021.

“With vendors, they kind of have a circuit that they do, and they haven’t had events since March, so we do know this is financially impacting those small mom-and-pop businesses,” Boelz said.

The cancellation of the Little Falls Arts & Crafts Fair and other related events will be especially difficult for downtown businesses already affected by major road and infrastructure construction last summer and by the economic shutdown caused by COVID-19, according to Boelz.

“But we do need to keep our community front and foremost in our minds to make sure that we are not going to become a hotspot for COVID-19,” Boelz said.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at Follow him on Twitter at