QuiltWeek returns to Paducah after two-year COVID hiatus
Paducah is Quilt City USA again as the American Quilter’s Society’s QuiltWeek event kick off today after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paducah gets its nickname from this event that more than doubles the city’s population for a week every spring, drawing in as many as 30,000 fabric arts fans.
Bonnie Browning is the executive show director for AQS. She says the 31-month-long wait for the event’s return to western Kentucky could mean an even bigger turnout. Browning says there are over 4,000 registrants for the classes alone. She says that’s just a fraction of the actual attendees.
“You know what? It wouldn’t surprise me to see it go over [30,000 attendees],” she said. “The excitement and the enthusiasm of the quilters – truly they just can’t wait to be here.”
Quilters, Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director Mary Hammond says, are not “one-time visitors” to Paducah. She says the QuiltWeek events over the decades have created a sort of brand loyalty for city tourism among quilting circles.
“I know it’s hard for us to imagine, but there are people who come here every year. But then think about how many people from here go to Panama City Beach every year,” the tourism official said. “Where people from here are passionate for the beach, these are women who are passionate for the art of quilting.”
The event serves as a financial springboard for Paducah’s hospitality, restaurant, arts and retail industries. A study from 2014 says each show has an economic impact of $25.5 million dollars. Hammond wants to get another economic impact study done soon in order to gauge how the event’s impact has fluctuated over time, but she thinks the impact has only increased.
“It’s going to be a great show,” Hammond said. “If we have the numbers like we’ve had in the past, my goodness, then that number is most certainly appropriate if not conservative.”
COVID-19 isn’t far from Hammond’s mind as she prepares for QuiltWeek, but that’s just going to be how things are moving forward, she said.
“It’ll find us having a mask in our pocket for if we feel like we need to put on but I sort of think that’s going to be for years to come, not just here,” Hammond said. “It’s very exciting to have people back in Paducah. The quilters, they come from all over ... I don’t think we’ll get quite as many international [attendees].”
Purchase District Health Department director Kent Koster has some concerns that the event could foster increased transmission of COVID-19 in McCracken County with quilters from across the nation and world flooding into western Kentucky.
“They’re going to be going to restaurants, they’re going to be staying in hotels, so there is some risk associated with having an international event locally,” he said. “The risk is much higher that COVID will be introduced to this area. It’s just a fact that the risk is going to be higher.
Koster recommended quilters take precautionary COVID-19 mitigation measures – like masking, handwashing and social distancing, when possible, in indoor event spaces. As of Tuesday, there were 14 active cases of COVID-19 in McCracken County. Koster expects that number to go up.
“I don’t see how it couldn’t increase,” the health department director said. “COVID has not gone away and people are going to be coming here who have been exposed to COVID or have COVID and I can guarantee that … there’s going to be some cases that are brought in here locally and people are going to get exposed and they’re going to get COVID.”
Browning, the show director, says the AQS is following federal, state and local recommendations for the event, but there are no vaccine or face masking requirements for attendance. The event organizer said similar events AQS has held in Daytona Beach, Florida, and in Branson, Missouri, have gone smoothly with people exercising as much caution as they personally feel necessary.
“You use your own judgment. If you’re more comfortable wearing a mask, then wear it,” Browning said. “We’re not the health police. We have to go with the mandates that other people put in place with regards to public health.”
The winners of the AQS QuiltWeek competition were announced Tuesday night. Classes, workshops and other quilt-related happenings kick off today and run through Saturday. Event schedules and information can be found on QuiltWeek.com.