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Oyster Festival reboots for 2020 due to COVID-19

Plates of oysters are stacked for customers during

Plates of oysters are stacked for customers during the annual Oyster Festival held in Oyster Bay. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The Oyster Festival is taking on a new shape in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual waterside festival won’t be held this October in Oyster Bay’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park but will rather be redesigned into a series of smaller events for its 37th year.

“As the virus spread and got worse across the country, we came to the realization that it may be very hard to put on a large-scale event that typically attracts 150,000 people over two days in a public space,” says Harlan Friedman, Oyster Festival’s director of development. “As a result, the festival is pivoting to set itself up for the future.”

Although the Oyster Fest won’t be physically held on its scheduled dates Oct. 17-18, the spirit of the event will be celebrated from Oct. 12-18 in a variety of ways — mostly virtual.

Oyster Festival Restaurant Week is set to launch in the historic hamlet where local restaurants will offer Oyster Festival-style specials throughout the week. “Whether it’s curbside pick-up or outdoor dining, we will craft fun and festival-like experiences with each participant,” says Alissa Marti, Oyster Fest’s media relations director.

Friedman adds, “This will give people a feeling of the festival and act as a stimulus for the local businesses.” 

The main purpose for the festival is to raise funds for the local nonprofit organizations through the Oyster Bay Charitable Fund. This year a GoFundMe campaign has been created to support these charities (gofundme.com/oyster-bay-charitable-fund). 

“Many of them raise anywhere from 50-100% of their annual funds from the festival,” says Friedman, who also confirmed that Frank M. Flower & Sons shellfish farmers and East End Group of Yaphank will serve as sponsors for this year’s efforts. “We will try to raise as much money as we possibly can.”

Additionally, an online auction will be conducted on charitybuzz.com offering unique experiences (such as a dinner at iconic East Harlem restaurant Rao’s) and a variety of memorabilia (including signed 1986 Mets collectibles).

An Oyster Festival photo contest will be hosted on social media where people can post their favorite pictures through the years. To replicate the festival’s shopping tents, there will even be an online arts & crafts marketplace at theoysterfestival.org. “People will be able to shop and have their items shipped to their homes,” Marti said.

Fans of the oyster eating and shucking contests need not worry, as this year’s contests will go on virtually.

“There has to be a 2020 winner. We can’t have a year without it,” Marti said. “The contests will be held at an undisclosed location and conducted with the proper social distancing. We might change the rules a bit to keep things as sanitary as possible. The events will be livestreamed on a platform where the general public can join in to cheer on their favorite contestant remotely.”

The 2019 Oyster Festival almost didn’t happen because of a lack of sponsorship funding. But the community rallied with the help of the Town of Oyster Bay and the event went on.

“Last year was a challenging year — no doubt, but we came through and it was a major success," Marti said. "As long as we have that same passionate commitment from everybody involved, we are going to continue to thrive.”

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