The Easter Bunny is back in town.
Many popular Richmond Easter events are returning this year, like Dominion Energy Family Easter at Maymont and the Easter Bunny at local malls.
But the biggest Easter event of them all — Easter on Parade — will not be returning this year.
A Richmond tradition for over 40 years, Easter on Parade is a “people parade” where folks dress up in their Easter bonnets and flock to Monument Avenue for live music, food and socializing. The popular event typically draws 30,000 to 35,000 people every year.
Under Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest easing of restrictions that go into effect April 1, outdoor venues must operate at 30% capacity, with no specific cap on the number of attendees. Previously, those venues were limited to 30% capacity or 1,000 attendees.
Echelon Events, which hosts Easter on Parade, said that due to the event’s size and the impossibility of implementing restrictions, “we felt it was best to not have our event once again.” They are hoping to bring Easter on Parade back in 2022.
Parents and families are also navigating how to celebrate Easter this year, whether that means hosting a socially distant egg hunt in the backyard or heading out to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to see Peter Rabbit.
Jenny Borkowski, from Chester, has a 3-year-old daughter, but she doesn’t feel comfortable being in larger groups yet, even outside. “Like last year, we are going to celebrate at home and do an Easter egg hunt in our yard,” she said.
Others like Hillary Wakefield, of western Henrico County, is heading to Family Easter at Maymont with her 3-year-old son James and her husband. Her son already had COVID-19 and she’s been fully vaccinated for more than 6 weeks.
“We plan to stay masked and as socially distant from others as possible. For me, my little one in day care every day is as big of a risk as the Maymont event,” Wakefield said.
“Outdoor events are always safer than indoor gatherings,” said Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, chair of the division of infectious diseases at VCU Health. “Regardless of the setting, families should still socially distance from other families, and wear face masks to reduce their risk of exposure.”
Candace Johnson is headed to Hanover Tavern with her family and 4-year-old son for an outdoor brunch and photo session with the Easter Bunny. She said that she feels safer dining outdoors.
“Eating outdoors is always best, if possible. If that’s not possible, families who are dining indoors should only remove their face masks when physically eating,” Bearman said.
Isabel Edmonds says she’s not comfortable attending large-scale public events until her 3-year-old daughter is vaccinated, which could be awhile. Instead, she said, “We are having the grandparents over in the backyard fully masked and distanced for lunch and an Easter egg hunt.”
“When family members are all vaccinated, they may congregate indoors and outdoors without a mask in small numbers — less than 10 individuals,” Bearman said. “For family members who are unvaccinated, even when surrounded by others who are vaccinated, it is still best to wear a mask in order to decrease risk of exposure to the virus.”
After having to take last year off due to the pandemic, Family Easter at Maymont will return on Saturday, April 3, for egg-friendly activities on the lawn, scavenger hunts, music from Back to Rock, food trucks and space for picnics.
“Dominion Energy Family Easter is a celebration of spring at Maymont that generations of families look forward to each year. Especially after the past year that has been so challenging, we wanted to give the community a fun and festive occasion to enjoy being outdoors, while keeping public safety protocols and social distancing in place,” said Parke Richeson, Maymont’s executive director.
For Family Easter at Maymont, the capacity will be limited to 4,500 individuals, with entry times scheduled at intervals to allow for proper social distancing. Past attendance for Family Easter was around 10,000 people.
This year, Maymont’s 100 acres will be open only to event guests during the duration, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Robins Nature Center will be open as a separate attraction that day, with its own admission and capacity limits.
This isn’t the first large-scale event hosted at Maymont since the pandemic.
“Last fall, we had success hosting community events like Garden Glow, Cars & Corks and pod concerts such as our Big Tent Festival with the Richmond Symphony, all operating within guidelines,” Richeson said. “We’ve developed a nice model for executing these events following all the protocols that allow Maymont to continue to be a place where everyone feels welcome and comfortable while having fun.”
Family Easter is an important fundraiser for Maymont, which has been hit by the pandemic. Maymont had to lay off 14 staff members last spring.
Staffing and revenue have not returned to pre-pandemic numbers. Overall revenue in fiscal year 2020 declined 20%, and 60% alone in the fourth quarter, a direct correlation to generated revenue like programs, events and facility rentals for special events like weddings and birthdays, according to Richeson. Revenue streams in fiscal year 2021 are running about 25% below “normal” levels due to the programs, events and activities that cannot be conducted with current public health guidelines.
Last year, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was closed due to the pandemic and Peter Rabbit met with guests virtually. But this year, the garden has been open for months and Peter Rabbit will return for socially -distanced photos on Saturday, April 3, and Sunday, April 4.
Capacity will be limited to 3,000 guests for the day, spread out with timed ticketing for each half hour.
Lewis Ginter hosted Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights during the holidays, which drew 75,678 paid ticketholders during the 49 nights of the event. The previous year was a record-breaking one and saw 113,718 attendees in 43 nights. But normally, attendance to GardenFest of Lights ranges between 80,000-90,000 guests.
Brian Trader, the garden’s new president and CEO, said that “it was important to welcome our community during a very challenging year.” He said that the garden adopted new technologies for ticketing and food service and re-imagined how guests flow through the display. “These protocols helped the garden prioritize safety and continue to inform how we evolve our best practices,” he said.
The garden is blooming with daffodils, tulips, Virginia bluebells and many more colorful blossoms. Freshly made and packaged food is available for purchase in the Robins Tea House. The garden encourages guests to bring blankets for picnicking among the blooms.
Lewis Ginter also had to lay off many of its staff last year, but rehired many of those positions.
“The garden of 2021 is very different from that of 2020,” said spokesperson Beth Monroe. “The garden has only recently returned to its seven-day-a-week schedule.” She said that most of the full-time positions are filled with several open positions in the process of being filled.
Like Maymont, events at Lewis Ginter like Peter Rabbit, as well as upcoming Flowers After 5 concerts starting in June, are important revenue streams.