St. Paul's Grand Old Day street festival, which has marked the beginning of summer for nearly half a century in the capital city, has been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers said in a statement posted online Thursday that the decision to cancel was made jointly with city leaders and the St. Paul Police Department. The event, which draws hundreds of thousands of people to St. Paul's Grand Avenue, had been scheduled for June 7.

"I am sure you can understand with the dizzying swirl of change around the world from the COVID-19 pandemic, our little corner of the universe is adhering to the guidelines set out to keep all of us healthy and safe," said the statement from Grand Old Day Chairman Peter Emmett Kenefick and Grand Avenue Business Association President Bob Lawrence.

In an interview, Kenefick said the business association board made the decision Wednesday night to cancel the event. They considered rescheduling it for September, he said, but decided against it.

"As far as I can remember, Grand Old Day, it's the kick-off to summer in St. Paul, and that's really what that event is," Kenefick said. "And so we felt it made the most sense to just take all our work and move it forward into 2021."

According to the statement Thursday, plans for this year included 35-foot parade balloons, new acts and attractions and more local food and drink options.

Financial pressures nearly canceled last year's Grand Old Day, but a last-minute fundraising effort salvaged it. Businesses had made verbal agreements to sponsor the event this year, Kenefick said, but money hadn't yet changed hands.

If quarantine restrictions ease before June 7, the Grand Avenue Business Association is encouraging people to visit Grand Avenue and support local businesses that day.

Kenefick owns three restaurants on Grand Avenue: Dixie's on Grand, Emmett's Public House and Saji-Ya. He said he's doing curbside to-go orders, but had to lay off 87 employees last week.

"Grand is pretty quiet and pretty sad right now," he said.

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509