In 2019, the first annual Ice Fest was held in Downtown Binghamton, creating new traditions and a sense of community and warmth during the colder winter months. Stretching up and down both Court Street and Washington Street, it featured a small petting zoo, ice sculptures and a chili contest, all organized by the nonprofit Broome Winterworks. With the constraints of COVID-19 last year, the event wasn’t held again until this year on Feb. 19, with festivities taking place all along Court Street and on a smaller section of Hawley Street.

The festival retained some of the elements of the 2019 Fest while introducing new traditions and activities that will hopefully be carried on in future years. These new additions were introduced by Jordan Rindgen, managing partner at the restaurants The Colonial, The Stone Fox and Dos Rios Cantina. Rindgen played a vital role in organizing the festivities and getting more people involved.

Rindgen got in touch with Matthew Cornwell, a local musician, and Stan Kolonko, owner of Syracuse’s The Ice Farm, who both contributed their talents to the festival. Kolonko created nine of the ice sculptures that were featured outside restaurants and businesses on Court Street, such as Dos Rios Cantina and Sall-Stearns. There were sculptures of pizza, a candy skull, a dress shirt and a chair along with many others. Cornwell sang live music from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for restaurant patrons.

Safety protocols were not forgotten, as everyone wore masks and practiced social distancing inside and outside participating restaurants. Family units stayed together as small children took pictures in front of the ice sculptures, while teenagers and college students walked around partaking in the free chili in front of Dos Rios Cantina, the hot chocolate in front of The Colonial and cannolis in front of The Stone Fox. Food stalls made up one of the new additions to this year’s Ice Fest and other new traditions emerged as local Girl Scouts sold their wares on Court Street and further down on Hawley Street. A curling rink was even stationed on the patio of The Stone Fox for restaurant-goers to play with.

Creating a festive spirit and bringing the community together made Ice Fest a necessary reprieve from the mental toll of the pandemic. Community and local support of businesses were driving factors in continuing the tradition of Ice Fest.

“We figured that people haven’t had a lot of normalcy in their life ever since [COVID-19] started, so we might as well try to do something fun, and we also realized that many people had stopped coming out since outdoor dining stopped,” Rindgen said.

Creating community is a vital aspect of life, with or without the effects of COVID-19, and bringing joy and beauty to winter are goals that make Ice Fest a Binghamton tradition. Hopefully in years to come Ice Fest will remain as an event that brings people together, even in the most difficult of times.