Autumn Leaves dodges bad weather

First Posted: 10/11/2009

Problems such as swine flu, the recession and health-care reform seemed far removed from the streets of Mount Airy this weekend, when a threat of rain loomed as the only concern.
I think the weather really cooperated with us, Yvonne Nichols, the executive assistant of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, said late Sunday afternoon as the 43rd edition of the Autumn Leaves Festival wound down.
The possibility of rain had been a concern for the annual street festival featuring more than 170 craft exhibitors, music and foods of every description.
However, except for a few sprinkles on Saturday and some cloudy skies, the fairer side of Mother Nature seemed to prevail to the delight of festival planners and vendors alike.
We were fortunate that the weather really held off, said Nichols, one of the main organizers of the event for the chamber.
We missed the rain and that was good, said John Brady of Blue Ridge Wood Crafters in Sparta, who was operating a booth where jewelry and honey was offered along with wooden kitchen implements such as cutting boards and napkin holders. Its been good its been a good crowd, he said.
Brady, who has been coming to the Mount Airy event for several years, said the 2008 festival attendance actually seemed a little higher than this years, but his sales were greater this weekend.
Similar results generally were voiced by other craftspeople, with reports varying from vendor to vendor.
Its been pretty good I had a killer Friday, said Sandra Culler of Pilot Mountain, who has been offering seasonal centerpieces, floral arrangements, wreaths and other creations at the festival for about 10 years.
I think people were worried about the weather on Saturday, Culler said in explaining Fridays high traffic volume. Actually, I think last year was better for me. But overall, its been a pretty good show.
Culler said she always tries to ask those who visit her booth where they are from, and this year she encountered festival-goers from Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Florida.
While the economy was partly blamed for an estimated 20-percent decline in attendance at last years festival compared to the year before, I think it has affected me this year, Culler said.
A similar report was given by Edith Hege of Charlotte, a longtime exhibitor at the Autumn Leaves Festival. This is our 33rd year, Hege said. We started when it was small.
Hege was offering stained-glass items, while her daughter was displaying wood-burning crafts.
Weve had a pretty good weekend, Hege said Sunday afternoon, not quite as good as we expected. She added that to her, the crowds were about the same as last year.
But the throngs on Main Street and adjoining avenues Sunday were a testament to the fact that it doesnt take much for people to have a good time despite whats occurring in the outside world.
Traci Hale of King said she most enjoyed just looking around while attending the festival with her daughter Suzannah and her friend, Chloe Cecil. The two girls said their favorite part of the event was making their own candles at one of the stopovers they had along Main Street.
Long lines also were spotted at the site on Independence Boulevard where collard-green sandwiches were being sold by members of the Sandy Level Community Action Council.
Nichols, the chamber official, said the Autumn Leaves Festival can always be counted on as an orderly event where people have a good time and inject money into the community at the same time. That is realized not only from festival purchases, but at gasoline outlets, lodging establishments and other facets of the local economy, she said.
She expressed appreciation for Chiquita Bananas, the events corporate sponsor, and Northern Hospital of Surry County, which sponsored the festival cups used by all drink vendors present.
Of course, it takes a community of volunteers to put on a festival, Nichols added.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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