With Founders Day cancelled, locals reflect on the loss of Dripping Springs’ biggest annual event

A photo of a gathered crowd on Mercer Street in Dripping Springs
The view from the Dripping Springs parade down Mercer Street. (Courtesy Al Gawlik Photography)

The view from the Dripping Springs parade down Mercer Street. (Courtesy Al Gawlik Photography)

If not for COVID-19, Dripping Springs would have celebrated its 33rd Annual Founders Day Festival this week from April 24-26. As it is, a slew of businesses and nonprofits are feeling the financial effect of the lost weekend, with the thousands of outside visitors it brings, and residents are feeling the loss of a significant cultural experience.

“These are difficult and uncertain times; I know that this was not an easy decision for the Judge to make,” Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell wrote in a March 18 letter to citizens, acknowledging the initial decision on mass gatherings by the Hays County Judge that triggered the event’s cancellation.

Founders Day celebrates the 1850 founding of Dripping Springs by the Moss, Wallace and Pound families and brings together live music, arts and retail booths, food and beverages, carnival games, a parade and more. As vendor participation fees benefit nonprofit organizations including the Dripping Springs Lions Club and fund scholarships, food pantry operations and other charitable efforts, Purcell in his letter encouraged vendors to allow their contributions to stay with those groups.

Regardless, the loss to local businesses and nonprofits will still be significant. According to local business owner Brady McElroy, the boost downtown retailers receive from Founders Day extends long past that one weekend.

“It’s the after-effects of someone coming in and saying, ‘I saw this at Founders Day and I was hoping you still had it.’ It’s a trickle effect,” said McElroy, who owns the Mercer Street boutique Revel Wilde.

Founders Day does indeed bring drastically increased foot traffic to the historic district of Dripping Springs in particular, Dripping Springs Chamber of Commerce Director Susan Kimball said. According to a mobile data survey conducted for the Chamber of Commerce, Mercer Street alone experienced an increase of around 25,000 visitors during the week of Founders Day in 2019.

Kimball pointed out that since the cancellation came around only a month ahead of time, many retailers had already done the work of increasing inventory to prepare for Founders Day and are now burdened with stock that is selling slower than ever with brick-and-mortar shops switched over to online and now to-go sales or closed entirely.

While Founders Day is set to return next year from April 23-35, 2021, the loss of a 2020 celebration is a blow, both from a business and community standpoint, Kimball said.

“I feel like everybody [in Dripping Springs] is involved in some way or another—man, woman, child,” she said.

In order to honor the Founders Day tradition, festival staff have shared highlights of Founders Days past on Facebook, as well as a “virtual parade” on April 24.
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.