Packapalooza Boy With Violin

Emerson Kasopsky holds a violin while Department of Music member Caroline Heathcoat teaches him how to play during Packapalooza on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019 on Hillsborough Street. The 2019 Packapalooza event is a continuation of NC State's annual block-party tradition to ring in the new school year with vendors, artists, live performances, food and giveaways.

Packapalooza, a popular NC State tradition that began in 2012, was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made the annual festival tradition largely unworkable as an event. But what happens to the vendors and performers that Packapalooza books every year to increase the festival’s profile? 

The event usually involves many vendors lining Hillsborough Street to serve a large crowd of students and community members. The day normally culminates in a concert by the Belltower with fireworks. However, with Gov. Cooper’s COVID-19 restrictions and the community standards put in place by university administration, there was no way for this event to feasibly exist in the same form.

According to Justine Hollingshead, chief of staff and assistant vice chancellor for the Division of Academic and Student Affairs and Packapalooza planning team chairperson, the possibility of disruptions due to COVID-19 were already being considered in January, and as registrations from various vendors started to come in, billing was held off. 

“We went into a holding pattern for months, really, because it took us until March to say, ‘Well gosh, we need to shift to online’,” Hollingshead said. “Then, it really looked like it was going to impact the event itself, but we didn’t make the decision, as you know, until late April into early May to officially cancel the event.” 

Ultimately, Packapalooza didn’t have to refund any money to various vendors or performers because no money had been collected due to initial caution about the virus. Hollingshead said the projected budget for the entirety of Packapalooza this year was $284,000. 

“[$284,000] is pretty cheap when you consider how many people attend the event,” Hollingshead said.

In planning for a future Packapalooza event, Hollingshead said much of the funding for Packapalooza comes through fundraising and money raised by NC State clubs and alumni. 

“We have spread the costs out across campus, with the different colleges, student [organizations], [Inter-Residence Council], Student Government, [University Activities Board], Alumni Association for student ambassadors, are the big student orgs that contribute money to the event,” Hollingshead said. 

The NC State alumni often play an important role in events like Packapalooza, which the school holds because they are not only the primary source of funds for many events but the target audience for many university events as well. The expenses that come from alumni and families of NC State students coming to Raleigh makes Packapalooza not just a financial success for the vendors of Packpalooza, but the city of Raleigh as whole. Hollingshead said Packapalooza has a significant impact on the local economy. 

“We’re helping the economy and the city of Raleigh, spending over half a million dollars,” Hollingshead said. “So when the University says that it's an economic driver to help stimulate the economy and to impact the economy, it's events like Packapalooza that help to do that. It's a great way to start the school year for students and help give back to the community.” 

Jeff Murison, president and CEO of LiveItUp! Hillsborough Street, expanded on Packapalooza’s impact on the economy as well as other events that the University puts on.

“As the community’s cheerleading organization that we are, LiveItUp! Hillsborough Street, we actively participate in the planning of the special events that happen on the corridor, whether that is Packapalooza, the Red & White Homecoming Weekend Parade, the Krispy Kreme Challenge, other events like that, like the City of Oaks Marathon,” Murison said. “We engage in the planning process for those events to help make sure that they execute well, that they have minimal disruption to the normal flow of business on the street and a maximum amount of engagement with the community and provide as much return on investment as possible.” 

Hollingshead said LiveItUp! Hillsborough Street has collected data about how much money and time the average person spends at Packapalooza. 

“The average person spends about $11 and stays at the event for three and a half to four hours,” Hollingshead said. 

While the University and many businesses have transferred their services online, Hollingshead said she is confident Packapalooza will return.

“We had paid our application fee to the city of Raleigh for the event, and they transferred that over to 2021 for us,” Hollingshead said. “So we have that date on hold, and our application is already submitted. We’re just waiting for good news.”