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Readers know the Amana Colonies as an eastern Iowa collection of communities that developed from 18th-century German settlements in the midwest. While some may have been expecting empty streets and shuttered shops in the colonies this summer, David Retting reports the colonies have been doing fairly well as a whole.

"The fortunate thing for us in Amana is we haven't had any cases of COVID-19," said Retting, the executive director at Amana Colonies Convention & Visitors Bureau. "June was a surprisingly good month, based on the situation."

Retting said the colonies had nearly all of their day-to-day functions and shops operating through June, and while certainly affected by a loss of traffic due to concerns around the novel coronavirus, the blow was not as what business owners and others had braced for.

By Retting's estimate, June crowds were about 50% of what he'd seen last year, with a decent number of guests being visitors from Illinois, which has more stringent policies than Iowa regarding COVID-19 related closures.

"Of that 50%, these folks are good shoppers," he said. "They are spending money and buying products, so it hasn't been as bad as we feared."

While some events have been canceled — such as Maifest, one of the colonies' five major festivals — much of the programming has been able to be delayed or held on schedule with social distancing measures in place.

Perhaps the most notable programming facet of the Amana Colonies that has been canceled outright is Old Creamery Theatre's 2020 season. Though the theatre's main season had been canceled earlier in the year, staff for 2020 — due to strained finances — has been reduced to just the theater's general manager, Pat Wagner, as of July 3.

According to the theater's current voicemail recording, staff plan to announce a new schedule of shows for the 2021 season later this year.

Peter Teahen, president of Old Cremerey's Board of Trustees, said it's too early to say whether previous staff will be offered their old positions back, noting the world is still navigating the ramifications of the novel coronavirus.

Teahen said the board made the decision to go against financial advice and keep staff employed into the start of July so that they wouldn't go without medical coverage for the month.

“I take pride in our team and our theater that, in very, very difficult times, we were able to keep the staff employed as long as we could … we were hoping (the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program) would be extended and be allowed to continue, but it doesn’t look like it’s being extended,” Teahen said. “We have every intent to bring the theater back to the stage (for its 50th year), but what it’ll look like the world will know when the world figures out COVID.”

Though Old Creamery did have some now canceled summer programing in place, Teahen said that — at best — moving forward with that programing would have only prolonged the inevitable.

Amana attendees can expect other programming from the Iowa County organization later this weekend, though, including Bike & Hike Week on Saturday. Though the 38-mile biking event Tour de Brew was canceled, other aspects of the weekend encouraging walking and trail riding are still on.

Later this month, Colonies in Bloom is still scheduled for 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on July 25. The free event allows attendees to tour area gardens and enjoy live music and lawn games.

"(Bike and Hike) has a couple of different bike rides and walking trails, all of that is easily done with social distancing," Retting said. "(For Colonies in Bloom,) people go around the colonies at their own pace in their own groups ... Those are very easy to do."

Next month, the colonies still plan to host their first Pop Up Mart on Aug. 8 and, later in the month, hold Wust Festival at 11 a.m. on Aug. 29. The latter was pushed back from its usual June date.

Retting estimated typical turnout for the Oktoberfest-style Wust Fest to be about 4,000 — and while he can't say what turnout will look like this year, events are being changed somewhat to accommodate social distancing measures.

Retting also noted the colonies are still planning to hold Ocktoberfest proper this year.

"Oktoberfest is generally a three-day event — we may just have to cut it down to Friday and Saturday," he said, noting how the colonies are still figuring out how best to balance cost for an annual event under the expectations of lower attendance. "Over the three-day weekend, we (typically) get somewhere to the 30,000 or 40,000 range. We don't expect that to happen this year ... it's a challenge; we'll figure it out as best we can."

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Press-Citizen. Reach him at ihamlet@press-citizen.com or (319)-688-4247, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

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