ESSEX — The annual Essex Clamfest has been canceled, not because of demolition next to its usual site but because the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce hopes to give the local restaurants that contribute a break this year.

“Many restaurants can’t participate this year,” said chamber CEO Ken Riehl. “(They’re) all busy and short-staffed.”

While the annual celebration at Shepard Memorial Park features arts and crafts vendors, live music and food vendors, its main draw is the Chowder Tasting Competition. Guests pay $10 to taste-test a variety of different chowders prepared by local restaurants, and pick to the restaurant to win the People’s Choice Award, while a panel of local “experts” hands out the Judge’s Award.

The chowder tasting has typically seen 1,200 to 1,500 hungry taste-testers the last few years.

Without the competition, the chamber didn’t see a point in following through with the rest of the festival. The chamber isn’t expected to lose much on fundraising this year without it. Riehl said ClamFest’s expenditures and profits typically “break even” each year.

There are no plans to host another event in place of ClamFest, Riehl confirmed.

“We’re already focusing on the holiday season (events),” he continued. “We’ll be back better than ever (with ClamFest) next year.”

Selectmen Chairwoman Ruth Pereen denied that the event was canceled due to the ongoing demolition of the Memorial Building, the former public safety building, next door to Shepard Memorial Park, where ClamFest is usually held.

“At no time did the Board of Selectmen tell the Chamber of Commerce to cancel the event,” said Pereen. “Even with demolition going on, (ClamFest) wouldn’t have impacted the (Safety Building’s) footprint.”

Demolition is still on budget and expected to wrap by the end of the month, Pereen said. Since finishing the asbestos work last month, crews with Encore Contracting Services of Lawrence have torn down the building’s vehicle bays.

Memorial Field will remain open while work is ongoing, according to Pereen.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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