Artisans caught in middle of festival feud between spring, fall events in Mount Airy Vendors told to choose single event

March 22, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

A turf battle over artisans, crafts people and food vendors is driving a wedge between the organizers of two Mount Airy community festivals that attract throngs of visitors to the town's picturesque Main Street.

The Mount Airy Fall Festival, a two-day event held each October, and the Spring Fling, a one-day festival in May, have co-existed peacefully the past two years in this town of about 5,000 in southwest Carroll.

The source of the feud is a letter circulated by the Mount Airy Fall Festival Committee to food and drink vendors and craft sellers. The letter states: " if you participate in the Spring Fling to be held in Mount Airy on Saturday, May 16, you will not be allowed to have a booth at the Fall Festival."

The letter has generated a week of intense community debate and prompted one committee member -- the wife of a city councilman -- to resign.

"It's like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny having a war," said Councilman David W. Pyatt, chairman of the town's parks and recreation committee.


Irene Brown, Spring Fling chairwoman and owner of a downtown bead, gift and antiques store, called the letter an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. She said she has had one or two cancellations, but has received an outpouring of support from vendors who resented the letter.

Connie German, spokeswoman for the Fall Festival committee, accused the spring event's volunteers of raiding Fall Festival crafts sellers.

"The Spring Fling committee went to our vendors without our knowledge and permission and sent them contracts," she said.

Mount Airy senior citizens, who have been selling raffle tickets for a handmade quilt at both festivals, were upset over being forced to choose, said Debbie Shindle, Mount Airy Senior Activities Center manager.

She said the quilt raffle brings in an average of $1,200 a year to supplement the budget the center receives from the county government.

The senior citizens won an exemption to the ban from antiques store owner Ben Gue, chairman of Fall Festival, Shindle said.

Mayor Gerald R. Johnson said the feud has "put vendors in the middle, and I think that's very unfair. It could have been handled in a much better way."

Both events

Marlene Bohn, a former Fall Festival committee member, said she plans to participate in both events. She will offer crafts, cotton candy and items from her Main Street furniture store. She didn't plan to ask for an exemption.

"I don't really think people should have to choose. I don't think people should be put in that position," she said. "To me, the object is to bring people downtown. It's to benefit everybody."

The Mount Airy Lions Club is taking the same approach.

"The Lions Club is going to do both events, period," said Rose Ann Parenteau, club president.

The club will sell hot dogs and drinks, distribute information about its activities and collect used eyeglasses at both festivals, she said.

Parenteau said she told Gue of the club's plans, "and he said we could do it. It was all right with him."

Gue referred all questions to German.

The town government handles finances for the 3-year-old Spring Fling and uses the proceeds for community beautification projects. The 14-year-old Fall Festival is independent.

German said the Fall Festival committee wrote the letter after becoming concerned that the Spring Fling was imitating its program. Members feared their festival would lose attendance.

"If I saw the same crafts at the Spring Fling as the Fall Festival, I wouldn't go to the other [event]," she said.

Member resigns

Fall Festival committee member Sheila Pyatt, wife of Councilman Pyatt, resigned after learning of the letter. She said she was unaware of the meeting at which the letter was drafted.

Sheila Pyatt volunteered for the committee last year, seeking a volunteer opportunity that wouldn't conflict with her husband's position.

"I just thought it would be nice to be involved with the town and there would be no conflict," she said.

German said the Spring Fling was planned only as a flower and plant festival, a point Brown disputes.

Spring Fling sponsors agreed to forego crafts in the festival's first year at the mayor's request, Brown said. She said Johnson told her the Fall Festival organizers were worried about crafts at the newer event. In the second year, Brown said, the spring event added crafts.

"I know the Fall Festival committee has gone way out of their way to block this and other festivals. But I think this time they've gone too far," Brown said. "What are they afraid of? Are they afraid the Spring Fling is going to be a success?"

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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