COLUMBIA, Pa. (WHTM) — There’s a lot to the story, but let’s begin with the end.
“Bridge Bust is canceled,” Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce President Jeanne Cooper said Tuesday. “It is not taking place this year.”
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The event was originally scheduled for this Saturday, Oct. 2. But again, leaving no room for doubt, “It is off,” Cooper said.
For 32 years, the event happened on Veterans Memorial Bridge, the old bridge connecting Columbia (in Lancaster County) with Wrightsville (in York County). It was sponsored by the Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, which includes those two municipalities plus Marietta, which is up the river from Columbia.
The first problem? Bridge Bust couldn’t actually take place on, well, a bridge. Cooper says PennDOT notified the chamber it would have to move the event because of insurance issues.
That might seem like the logical end to an event called “Bridge Bust,” but it was actually set to take place anyway, albeit on a shore rather than a bridge. Marietta said the chamber could use Front Street there.
But then, financial issues did what the change of venue couldn’t. The chamber ran out of money. The main culprit, according to Cooper? The usual suspect these days: the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented the chamber from holding a lot of the fundraisers that make up roughly half of its financial needs not covered by membership dues.
Specifically, fundraising revenue or no revenue, there was the ongoing cost of paying an executive director plus the costs of a visitors’ center that hadn’t been receiving so many visitors anymore, even before the pandemic.
In the past, someone would stop in to ask for directions to Hershey and end up learning about attractions in the immediate vicinity, like the Turkey Hill Experience or the National Watch and Clock Museum.
But that time has passed.
Now “people are using their cell phones and their iPads and their computers to get directions to anywhere,” Cooper said. At the visitors’ center, they weren’t using much more than the bathroom.
The chamber’s finances are so bad that the organization is actually in the process of dissolving. So far, it has refunded, or not charged in the first place, Bridge Bust vendors who paid for their booths after June 4, which is small consolation to those who paid before then.
“They have taken away a great show and our money,” one woman wrote to abc27. She did not respond to messages asking her if she would like to comment further to a reporter.
Cooper said the dissolution process — overseen by the Pa. Department of State — prevents the chamber from touching the rest of its money right now, even to issue refunds to the rest of the vendors. But, the chamber is trying to sell the building. She said the fastest way to refund the vendors is if the chamber can manage to sell the building before the organization fully dissolves.