NORWICH — Despite the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Norwich persevered and saw several positive changes this year, as well as the revival of a few beloved local events.
Perhaps the most major stride was the $10 million District Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant from the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, awarded to the city thanks to the hard work put in by Commerce Chenango and the Development Chenango Corporation (DCC).
“It’s going to transform Norwich,” said Commerce Chenango President and CEO Kerri Green. “I think the ripple effect throughout the entire Chenango County is going to be felt. It’s going to completely transform downtown. It's going to give that extra push we needed to put us into that next level of innovation and forward thinking.”
The grant will fund several projects to revamp downtown Norwich. They include establishing a business and workforce training center, the creation of micro-retail spaces, improved accessibility and safety to downtown buildings and walkways, development of a creative hub, development of a boutique hotel, and transformation of Norwich's central space.
Downtown Norwich also saw several community events in 2021, both old and new. The Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) brought back a few classic Norwich events, and even started a new one: the first ever Norwitch Fall Festival, held on Saturday, October 30.
“The community completely showed up for everybody,” said BID board member Mindy Chawgo. “From the vendors, to the parade, to the chicken barbecue that was sold out in 25 minutes, from Trunk or Treating, which we had probably 1,000 kids walking through.”
The festival was held in conjunction with the final Saturday in the Park with Chobani of the season, as well as Trunk or Treat, and the YMCA Halloween Parade and costume contest. Thousands of area residents attended the brand new event to enjoy the fall festivities.
“I've heard nothing but amazing feedback, everybody is so happy to be downtown, to be together, you know, to have the Y who gives out the amazing prizes, and just to have the parade again to bring it back to life. I've had nothing but positive feedback this whole weekend,” said Chawgo after the event. “It’s amazing, it’s a great feeling. We're very, very lucky to be able to just put it on, and have that park as part of our town so that we can do something like that.”
Featured at the festival were several local vendors, barbecue chicken from the Columbus Public House, pumpkin carving, live music, tarot reading, children’s activities, and much more. Chobani was also in attendance handing out free full-sized products, and they sponsored all attending vendors, allowing them to participate for free.
However, the BID didn’t just start a new festival. They also brought back one of the most loved Norwich events: the annual Parade of Lights, which was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. The parade has been a staple of the community for over 30 years, according to Pennysaver and Evening Sun Publisher Richard Snyder.
"Unfortunately, after three-plus decades the parade had to be cancelled last year due to COVID, and as we set about planning this years event, we decided it was time to pass the torch on to others, to not only keep the parade going, but to make it even better," he said.
Chobani sponsored the fan-favorite parade, and hosted their yogurt case giveaway in East Park after dozens of floats made their way down Broad Street, which was packed with spectators.
“I think despite the cold weather the parade was great. It was nice to have it back in town, we missed it from last year,” said BID Executive Director Tracey Chawgo. “The Chobani handout went very well … They handed out 5,000 cases of yogurt.”
Another highly anticipated event in the Norwich area is the annual Chenango Blues Fest, held every summer at the Chenango County fairgrounds. After being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the first time in 28 years the Blues Fest was not held, organizers brought it back in August of 2021.
"I thought people were great, and people were just unfailingly gracious. I heard so many kind words from people. So many people said how happy they were to have us back, and how great it was to be outdoors and enjoying music. It was very gratifying to both myself and all of our volunteers, how supportive and nice everybody was," said Chenango Blues Fest Organizer Eric Larsen. "I did not hear a single negative word all day long. The opposite. I heard nothing but compliments and support."
Thousands of spectators came out for the two-day event, and enjoyed the performances of a dozen talented musicians, and delicious food provided by local vendors.
Other strides for the Norwich area include the opening of the Catholic Charities Leilani Way facility, a $1,110,000 community center located at 105 Leilanis Lane in the Town of Norwich.
First opened in April of this year, the facility houses the Addiction Center of Broome County, the Chenango County Behavioral Club, Roots and Wings, a food pantry, Fidelis and Molina insurance enrollment, NOEP food stamp enrollment, and a household goods and clothing shop.
"It's important for us to meet people where they're at, and we want to work hard to give people that hand up when they need it," said Catholic Charities Executive Director Robin Cotter. "I want them to feel uplifted when they come here. I want them to know that they're valuable, and that we're here for them during tough transitions in their life."
For the Norwich area thrill seekers, an exciting new business took up shop in the Lt. Warren E. Eaton Airport earlier this month. Just Jump Skydiving, a family owned and run business, offers tandem jumps for $235 if paid by credit card, and $225 for cash.
"I love doing tandems. I love the, you know, basically being able to meet and teach another person for their first jump," said owner and veteran skydiver John Snurkowski.
"The view of the clouds is phenomenal," he added, speaking about his favorite parts of the sport. "Sometimes you’ll see a little bit of rainbow through them. It's just different."
The people of Norwich made 2021 a great year, in spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic. The Chenango County Health Department has been hard at work throughout the year to keep residents informed and slow the spread of COVID-19.
Currently, 77.9 percent of Chenango County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 89 percent of the 18 years and older population have received at least one dose, according to the New York State Department of Health vaccine tracker.
Thanks to the dedicated members of the community, 2021 turned out to be a year full of fun events, new developments, and community togetherness. With the constant strides toward progress, it's no doubt that 2022 will be another action packed year full of positive change.