SHIPSHEWANA — As 2020 winds to a close, Shipshewana’s annual Ice Festival is now seemingly just another event on a long list of public events that became a causality of the coronavirus pandemic.
The two-day annual winter festival usually takes place in the week between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. It features ice sculptures, an ice carving competition and a competitive chili cook-off.
But worried that it sill won’t be safe for crowds, the event has been, at best, postponed, and at worst, canceled.
LaGrange County remains under a red rating from the Indiana State Department of Health for COVID-19 spread, which means public events are limited to no more than 25 people. Ice Festival isn’t really an everyone-in-one-place event, but the restrictions still complicate matters.
Hoping to tap into a little bit of that Shipshewana magic, however, event organizers have decided to go ahead and bring several tons of crystal clear ice to town on Tuesday and turn that ice over to several professional ice carvers anyway.
It’s not exactly the Ice Festival, but it’s better than nothing.
Event organizer Levi King, a local business owner, said doing business in this business-friendly town has been tough this year because of the pandemic, but that Shipshewana’s merchants have fared better than business owners in many other places.
King said on a recent trip to Mishawaka, he noticed several businesses, mostly restaurants, that have recently appeared to have closed their doors for good.
“I was really shocked at the number of restaurants that have shut down, totally shut down,” he said. “Their windows were boarded up and their equipment was gone.”
Shipshewana, because of its status as a tourist destination, known for its family appeal, apparently has fared better, King said. When the state started easing coronavirus pandemic restrictions in early summer, visitors quickly returned to Shipshewana, and the town almost appeared untouched.
The Ice Festival typically is the last major event hosted in Shipshewana each year, a nod to the season that just ended, a final hurrah before the community slows down and hibernates until the start of the next tourist season, usually mid-April.
Hoping to get back to at least a little normal, several businesses around town have opted to place large blocks of ice outside their properties and have invited ice carvers to turn that ice into ice sculptures.
Those locations include the Davis Mercantile, the Blue Gate Restaurant, Yoder’s Shopping Center, Yoder’s Meat and Cheese, E&S Sales and County Road Fabrics. Several sculptures are planned around Davis Mercantile, a large carving will sit in front of the Blue Gate Restaurant, and seven sculptures are planned for Yoder’s Meat and Cheese.
“It’s abbreviated compared to other years,” King said. “In other years, we would have ordered 30,000 pounds of ice. This year, we’re getting 12,000 pounds of ice. But it’s going to happen. The ice is coming and the carvers will be here on Dec. 29.”
King said he and others had planned to still hold the second day of the traditional ice festival, hosting both an ice carving contest and chili cook-off, sometime in late January. But as the year winds down, he said that not likely to happen.
“I was going to have it in January, but at this point the way things are looking, I don’t think anyone is going to want to have a chili cook-off,” King said. “So, I’m thinking it’s going to be called off. That’s my best guess.”