It’s a special year for Mount Airy’s Autumn Leaves Festival. The annual event kicks off its 50th year on today.
Yvonne Nichols, who organizes the event for the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, said that in 1966 the chamber’s board of directors had a vision.
“They saw all the traffic coming up (U.S.) 52 and thought it could benefit our area to hold an event,” said Nichols.
She said though the event has changed some in its 50 years, the vision is still alive. The Autumn Leaves Festival has become one of the longest-running and most sought-after festivals in the southeastern United States.
She said the 2016 festival has much in store for those who visit. New food and craft vendors will be attending. There will be 21 food and drink vendors and more than 200 booths selling crafts and other products. Vendors will inhabit the streets of downtown Mount Airy, including Main Street, Franklin Street, Independence Boulevard and City Hall Street. The festival area has not changed from that of past years.
Nichols noted crowd favorites such as collard green sandwiches, ground steak sandwiches and Amish brownies will once again be available at the festival. A children’s area, which will include inflatables and train rides, will be set up on City Hall Street.
The festival runs from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from noon until 6 p.m. on Sunday.
An opening ceremony is planned at 11:15 a.m. at the band-stand on Independence Boulevard, said Nichols. The program will include recognition of Dr. Dale Simmons, who had the initial vision for the festival, and a balloon release.
Nichols said for Mount Airy and the surrounding area Autumn Leaves has an impact far beyond providing area residents with the opportunity to purchase one-of-a-kind crafts.
“The total economic impact of the festival is about $8.5 million,” explained Nichols.
She said local hotels fill with guests from out of town, and restaurants and other businesses enjoy increased sales as a result of the festival.
Nichols said the resulting economic impact of the festival could be even greater in 2016 than in prior years.
“The weather is supposed to be wonderful,” stated Nichols.
The 23-year Autumn Leaves veteran noted many festivals which were set to take place last weekend were cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew. Thus, she expects those people who had sought to get out of the house and attend festivals may travel to Mount Airy.
“I look for a lot of people to attend since the weather will be so nice,” remarked Nichols.
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.