Naperville Loses its Ribs and a Whole Lot More

Naperville’s Ribfest actually had been gone from Naperville for a spell … a few years ago now. While it left for Romeoville, it had kept Naperville in the name as it continued to be hosted by the Naperville Exchange Club.

The Romeoville move was ill-fated as Covid prevented the event from moving forward. From Romeoville it moved on to the DuPage County Fairgrounds where it just never seemed to get traction.

Ribfest – while at the Fairgrounds – looked and felt a whole lot like the old Naperville Ribfest. Similar layout. Same vendors. Many of the same Naperville volunteers. Just not nearly the same number of attendees.

Comically, lead singers would regularly say “Hello Naperville!”  … despite their actually performing in Wheaton due to so much Naperville connection continuing to remain with the event. If we couldn’t have Ribfest in Naperville, this was not the worst result to see it in Wheaton.

But after a string of tough events and losses, Ribfest organizers announced this week that it would not host an event this year. Future events sound unlikely. Ribfest appears to be gone for good.

Naperville leaders should ask themselves what the heck happened?

Was it not just a few years ago that this event was raising millions for local charities, drawing mass attention to Naperville, and contributing mightily to community goodwill and community spirit?

Events like this become the bedrock and fabric of a community. Memories and friendships made, pride in our City reinforced.

Hope that the mighty Ribfest might one day return to Naperville appears dashed. Now residents won’t even be able to enjoy it in Wheaton. What a shame. What a loss.

Here’s to hoping more is done by Naperville leaders to keep local traditions intact. Their value goes far beyond money raised. The Watchdog was not in the room when the decision to leave Naperville was made so he can’t say for sure … but the loss of this event feels like it could have been avoided.

Here’s to hoping Naperville Salute can find one of the old Ribfest rib vendors to bring in ribs this Fourth of July. Such a move may go a little ways towards filling the nostalgic void created by the loss of this longtime Naperville summer staple.

Show 9 Comments


  1. Buckgrove

    The loss of support for local charities is a concern. Domestic violence and others. Sad.

  2. Jim Haselhorst

    The Exchange Club, like all Naperville volunteer organizations, were badly damaged by the Pandemic. This created a triple whammy.

    First volunteer membership in these type of organizations were on the decline before the Pandemic but during and since the Pandemic memberships have gone into “landslide” numbers. Events like Ribfest and the Last Fling rely heavily on volunteers to make them happen and low membership creates manning problems.

    Second attendance numbers drop significantly when these events reopen after the Pandemic restrictions were lifted. The reality is that even thought the Pandemic restrictions were gone and the Pandemic was ending a lot of people were still very cautious about attending large crowd events like Ribfest and the Last Fling.

    Third, change in behavior and habits. The Pandemic resulted in a lot of people changing their regular routines and daily behavior. This is something normally people strongly resist doing but the Pandemic force these changes and people became more comfortable with making changes. This including looking at annual traditions like attending and participating in these kind of events. Many people simply decide the cost and travel involved was not worth attending and participating even though it had been a long standing tradition. This change applies to both volunteers and attendees.

    Even with the decision to scale back the size of many of these events (a kind of Pandemic reset), the numbers simply are not good. Financial Returns are down (partly due to low attendance and partly due to having to pay people to do what volunteers use to do) making the economics of these large events as fundraisers less practical. The reality is that having many smaller events, with smaller budgets and fewer volunteers needed, spread over the years is not only more practical economically but also less risky financially. In the end these organizations need to look at the bottom line because the funds from these events are what finances the charitable services and goods provided to the community by these organizations.

    Large events like Ribfest maybe a thing of the past. Expect more smaller events like Naperpalozza, Soups On, Lobster Day, etc in the future.

  3. Paul Ramone

    Who reads your stuff? I have to stop. There is nothing here that is helpful – per usual. Not sure why you bother posting. Long responses either wandering or supporting whatever it is the libs are saying.

    As for this issue, Ribfest closed for a reason, and we’ve yet to hear it. The rumor was that the city wanted a larger cut of the take. The other was that the “neighbors” weren’t so excited about the kind of crowd. Too many tattoos or some such.

    Those are rumors. It’d be nice to hear the truth rather than people still are living in the pandemic (coming from a 2024 mask-wearer?)

    • Jim Haselhorst

      WOW, so now I am living in your head rent free. It a compliment to be in the same company as good Naperville citizens like Ian and Benny.

  4. Paul Ramone

    Ribfest closed for a reason, and we’ve yet to hear why. The rumor was that the city wanted a larger cut of the take. The other was that the “neighbors” weren’t so excited about the kind of crowd. Too many tattoos or some such.

    Those are rumors. It’d be nice to hear the truth

    • Ron Amato

      I’m not sure where you are getting your information from. The City never received a cut of the “take.” Ribfest was a charity fundraiser. The City subsidized the event by providing in-kind City services (that were paid for with food and beverage tax money through SECA).

      The Park District cancelled its contract with the Exchange Club after 2019, primarily so that they could build a new girls softball field for Naperville Central high school. The Park District also put in a turf field (which is now used for youth soccer). (There are also pickleball courts in Knoch Park now.) The Exchange Club was offered other locations in Naperville, but they were not big enough given what the club was doing at the time (pre-Covid), which was trying to maintain a big event which would raise a lot of money for charities (more than $1M was raised in 2017). The Exchange Club had to look elsewhere and ultimately decided on Romeoville, which never happened due to Covid-19, then moved it to the County Fairgrounds in 2022. That’s the story in a nutshell.

      • Joan Murray

        Thanks Ron for clarifying! Too many crazy conspiracy theories out there as to why there’s no rib fest anymore.

  5. Robert Hacker

    Gee , I wonder what Jim Haselhorst has to say.

    • Joan Murray

      Why do people get mad when Jim posts a different view than y’all? You don’t like different views, just your own I guess.

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