“Very cooperative” weather and strong traffic made the second day of the Autumn Leaves Festival a big success.
“The craft vendors have all been pleased with their sales,” said Yvonne Nichols, Autumn Leaves Festival director. “The food vendors have experienced long lines.”
With Saturday’s heavy head count, Nichols estimated that nearly 200,000 would attend the three-day event.
With each additional year that the festival is held, the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce works to filter in new vendors that offer festival-goers unique items, she said.
A member of the chamber for 23 years, Nichols said and has organized the festival for roughly a decade, with this year being her last.
“The festival has grown a lot over the years and will continue to grow after I’m gone,” she said.
The 2017 Autumn Leaves Festival will be organized by Jonathan Willard, programs and events director.
To prepare him, Nichols said she began moving many of the responsibilities over to Willard’s plate, allowing him the ability to become familiar with the various aspects of the festival before taking over the reigns completely.
Nichols explained that she will continue to work with the chamber through the visitor’s center.
Several groups of local musicians came out on Saturday in order to serenade attendees with local bluegrass music.
Maudie Ramsey, of the High Mountain Country Bluegrass band, met several of her friends at the festival and performed an impromptu show in one of the alleyways that connects to Main Street. Ramsey performed with a 150-year-old German-made bass that she purchased in Stuart, Virginia, several years earlier.
“The older they are, the better the sound is,” Ramsey believed.
The group consisted of Ramsey, Frank Tucker, Mack Collins, Ben Currin and Lloyd Tilly.
Tucker said that he’s been performing at the festival for the past 25 years.
Another musical ensemble that performed at the festival was Possum Hollow Old Time String Band and Friends. The group is lead by Michael Foxx, who has been playing at the festival for the past 36 years.
Troy Parker joined the group for its performance, having first met Foxx here 15 years earlier when he had first come to the festival. Parker explained that they’ve been playing music together at this event ever since.
Local vendors expressed varying opinions about the festival, ranging from rave to upset.
Freddie Quesinberry, owner of Opie’s Candy Store, explained that foot traffic and sales for his business on Saturday weren’t any better than any other Saturday throughout the year.
“Normally it’s really good, but when they block you off it’s no good,” Quesinberry said. “Half the stores aren’t even open, and they don’t have them blocked off.”
Opie’s Candy Store has been in operation for 12 years.
Gay Hicks, owner The Gift Box, explained that she experienced pleasing business on both Friday and Saturday.
“It’s better this year than last year,” Hicks said.
The Gift Box has been in operation for three years.
Another Main Street business took a different approach by deciding to sell their goods out of a tent on the street instead of staying inside of their actual shop for the festival.
Jerry Caudle, co-owner of the Bear Creek Gifts and Bear Creek Fudge Factory, explained that he operates under the notion that you have to spend money in order to make money, a philosophy which prompted him and his co-owner Steven Martin to make the decision to opt for a tent instead of going about the weekend as if it were business as usual.
Caudle explained that due to the chamber of commerce’s restrictions in terms of having to alternate which stores have tents in front of them and which one’s don’t, they weren’t sure if they would have street exposure or not.
“We just decided to invest the time and effort to set up tents,” Caudle said.
Over the course of the three-day festival, Caudle explained that the company is expecting to sell nearly 10,000 pounds of fudge and have handed out nearly 75 pounds of fudge in free samples.
“People just go crazy after they try this stuff,” Caudle said.
The business has been in operation for the past seven years.
The festival offers a mix of newer vendors and veterans — like Thad Cox in his 29th year in Mayberry. He sells both hand-drawn works of art about Mayberry and The Andy Griffith Show and unique pottery.
When he’s not working on his art, Cox teaches art at West Stokes High School.
Cox’s signature pieces are his face jugs, mugs that have various funny and scary faces on them.
“I’ve always liked face jugs,” Cox said. “I like making funny faces, people need to laugh more.”
Cox explained that the jugs were originally brought to the U.S. by African slaves.
Cox explained that each of his pieces is a true original, adding that he normally looks in the mirror in order to accurately portray facial expressions in his pieces.
“It’s a lesson in anatomy, but it’s fun to see what kind of different faces you can come up with,” Cox said.
He explained that the festival has become a sort of a family affair, with both his daughter and brother coming out to support him.
With two upcoming shows, Cox explained that he wanted to do well in terms of sales over the three-day weekend, but didn’t want to do so good as to clean out his entire inventory. In order to replenish his supply while he sold, Cox worked on a pottery wheel during down times at the festival at his tent.
Aila Boyd may be reached at 336-415-2210.