It looks like the coronavirus is the Grinch that stole Halloween this year, as villages in East Hampton and Southampton towns confront the reality that they cannot allow gatherings of large crowds of trick-or-treaters, like those who typically join Sag Harbor’s annual ragamuffin parade, or crowd Cooper Lane in East Hampton and Elm Street in Southampton, for fear of spreading the virus.
East Hampton Mayor Jerry Larsen said this week that in the past, Village Police would block off Cooper Lane and neighboring streets, creating a car-free zone. But it will not be doing that this year, he said, because it would run afoul of New York State guidance for public events during the pandemic.
“This year with COVID, we just cannot close the roads and allow hundreds of people to congregate in the streets,” he said in a Facebook post. “This is just not a safe thing to allow.”
However, the mayor stressed the village is not canceling Halloween and would allow kids to go out trick-or-treating. “We are just asking that they do it in their own neighborhoods, so we don’t get large crowds in any one area,” he said.
Even though East Hampton Village will not be blocking off streets, Police Chief Mike Tracey said he planned to have a full contingent of officers on hand to direct traffic and enforce temporary parking restrictions that will be put in place to discourage parents from driving into the village, parking, and taking their children on their rounds. Chief Tracey also sent a letter to area school districts informing parents that roads will not be closed and encouraging safe practices.
“We are hoping everyone has a good night but want to remind people that they need to move out of the area and not linger in crowds,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of officers and are anticipating a safe night.”
The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce has also canceled its annual ragamuffin parade and pumpkin trail, according to chamber President Lisa Field, the owner of the Sag Harbor Variety Store.
She said it was a tough decision. “Halloween is a very important part of the community here in Sag Harbor,” she said, “but it wouldn’t be wise to hold something that would attract hundreds, and even thousands, of people to the village. We don’t want to have a situation where we have hundreds of kids clustering together.”
She added that the chamber did not believe it had the authority to prevent any business owner from handing out candy if children came trick-or-treating. “The Variety Store will be giving away candy unless something comes down from the village,” she said.
Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said there were no plans to restrict trick-or-treating, although the village has sought to enforce social distancing and mask wearing during the pandemic and would discourage large gatherings on the holiday.
On Halloween, children from the Sag Harbor Elementary School typically parade through the business district, stopping at stores that display a pumpkin sign in their window. Elementary School Principal Matt Malone said Wednesday that would be impossible this year, but that the school was exploring other ways to organize activities at the school for Halloween.
Michael Radday, the superintendent of the Westhampton Beach School District, said its elementary school had canceled its Halloween parade and organized trick-or-treating thorough the downtown business district due to the pandemic. “The health and safety of our students is the paramount concern,” he stated in an email, adding that the federal Centers for Disease Control had “issued guidance cautioning against these activities.”
Southampton Mayor Jesse Warren said his village was also taking a cautious approach to the holiday.
“Every year, we typically close Elm Street for a big trick-or-treating event,” he said. “But after speaking with residents, we don’t think it’s a good idea to close the street down.”
Like other officials, he said the village would not prevent trick-or-treating. “Our guidance is if you choose to do it, do it safely,” he said. “We are encouraging everyone to do it in their own neighborhood and stay close to home.”
But all is not lost. A number of organizations are still sponsoring Halloween activities on or near the holiday.
The Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department is sponsoring self-guided scavenger hunts in Good Ground Park, where those who sign up will be given a map and clues to help them find Halloween decorations. Those who find the most will win prizes. The town will also sponsor a virtual pet costume contest and a virtual pumpkin carving contest. Information for all events is available by calling the Parks and Recreation Department at 631-728-8585 or by visiting southamptontownny.gov/ParksRec.
And the Southampton Youth Bureau is holding a virtual Book Character Costume Contest on Instagram. The deadline is October 30 and the contest is open to Southampton Town residents in kindergarten through 12th grade. Prizes will be awarded to winners. Entries can also be sent via email to email@example.com. For more information, call (631) 702-2425 or visit www.southamptontownny.gov/youthbureau.
And the Southampton Arts Center will screen “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (yes, it has a Halloween theme) on Friday, October 30, at 6 p.m.