For a decade, Robert Hart Baker rented the Uncle Sam suit.
He wore the get-up, complete with shoes and a top hat, when he conducted the York Symphony Orchestra's annual Fourth of July concert. The free event, which included fireworks at the York Expo Center, was already a York County tradition before Baker took up the symphony baton in 1982.
Around 1992, he decided to buy the suit. It was a long-term investment that's paid for itself, he said. He thought it contributed to the festive atmosphere, which prompted about 10,000 people to tailgate, dance and sing along during the beloved annual event.
Tuesday, the Cultural Alliance of York County, which produces the Fourth of July concert and fireworks display, announced changes for the 2013 event. The fireworks will be held at Sovereign Bank Stadium in York. The YSO will not be part of the event.
"I may just be standing in my own back yard with (the suit)," Baker said.
But, he understands that cuts were made to save the event.
"I don't think it was to slight the symphony," he said. "It wouldn't be good to proceed with concerts like that knowing that one or more organizations would take a loss."
Backers pull out
Fireworks were never really part of the alliance's mission, president Joanne Riley said.
Then Bon-Ton began producing the Fourth of July celebration more than 35 years ago. After the alliance formed in 1999, it joined the event committee and performed some fiscal duties.
The Bon-Ton raised funds for and set up the fireworks display until its special events department moved to Milwaukee in 2009. So, to continue the tradition in 2010, the alliance became the event producer.
To make it happen, the alliance had to raise $70,000 - on top of more than $1 million it raises annually to support local arts agencies.
New sponsors signed on, and the festivities continued for two more years. But costs - fireworks, symphony fees, Expo Center rental rates, holiday pay to municipal police forces needed to direct traffic and run security - continued to add up.
Attendance started to dip, possibly from a lack of interest or because of competing events, Riley said. Roughly 7,000 attended last year. And only a handful of folks threw money into donation buckets that were passed through the crowd.
At the same time, it was getting harder and harder to find sponsors for the event, which for years had been an easy sell to corporations and businesses. Three large sponsors pulled out of the 2013 event, Riley said. So, the alliance had to choose whether to end it or cut costs.
"This has been a very tough year," Riley said. "We didn't want to let people down."
Charging admission was never an option, she added.
After hearing rumblings within the community, Eric Menzer, president and general manager of the York Revolution, offered to partner with the alliance to stage the 2013 festivities.
Since the Revolution produces its own fireworks shows and has its own security, it made financial sense, Riley said.
The venue has accommodated up to 8,000 people, and more will be invited to watch the fireworks from the stadium's plaza, playground area and surrounding streets, Menzer said. He added that the sports complex also has experience with crowd and traffic control.
Since the baseball team will be out of town July 4, Menzer sees the fireworks as a new opportunity to bring folks downtown. More details about the event will be announced in the coming months.
As of Tuesday morning, Jim Gross, York's director of public works, wasn't aware of the changes to the Fourth of July event. But he said there will be logistical aspects that the city will have to work out.
More events struggle
The Fourth of July celebration is the latest local event facing changes in the coming year.
About six years ago, York decided it could no longer afford to run its annual Halloween parade, and the York YWCA stepped in. This year, the YWCA announced that it will no longer organize the event.
Earlier this month, York announced there will be no New Year's Eve festivities downtown because of a lack of funds. A YSO Vienna-themed concert that night was also canceled.
York's Light Up Night, an evening designed to ring in the holiday season, also faced elimination. But Bob Kinsley of Kinsley Construction covered costs for this year's event, which will be held Dec. 7.
Light Up Night and New Year's events are not budgeted for 2013.
Menzer said New Year's Eve celebrations and parades ended years ago in many cities because of changing tastes, economic pressures and other factors.
"Community events seem to be tougher and tougher to make ... work financially," he said. "We have found a way to make (Fourth of July) work this year. I hope we can come up with an economic model that is sustainable. That's certainly our hope."
More events and nonprofits will have to figure out how to convince sponsors and donors to spend money on things that might not have a bottom line.
YSO conductor Baker said it's hard to put a dollar amount on the patriotic spirit displayed at the Fourth of July concert by people waving sparklers and marching in time to John Philip Sousa tunes.
Disappearing events could also signal shifting priorities. People today are busier and have less time to mingle with neighbors. Free concerts, which Baker sees as a gift to the public, have been fading away. In 2010, the symphony's free Pops in the Park series ended. York's SPLASH! Concert Series didn't happen this year.
"(It's) a loss to the overall sense of community," Baker said. "We know that the people who come enjoy it, but we have to justify the cost. We can't make the assumption (that) it's a sure thing. We all have to learn from it."
Light Up Night
York's annual holiday celebration - Light Up Night - is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7 in Continental Square. The free event includes live entertainment, children's activities, horse and buggy rides, the arrival of Santa Claus and the lighting of the city Christmas tree.
Read more about about changes to other local holiday traditions.