Towsontown festival draws crowd, despite competition

Many of 250,000 visitors are regulars at annual downtown street fair

May 03, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

With no bridge swaying in the breeze, no waterfront to boast of, no animals to touch and a throng of competition for the first weekend in May, what's a 32-year-old urban festival to do?

Pack in crowds anyway.

An estimated 250,000 people jammed the 12-block center of Towson at this weekend's Towsontown Spring Festival, meandering about 400 vendors and more than 100 nonprofit and government agencies. Every way a visitor turned, a balloon bobbed on a stroller, powdered sugar coated a smile, and a crowd watched a performer on a stage.

They apparently didn't miss being somewhere else.

Events vying for audiences and dollars yesterday included -- but were hardly limited to -- the Bay Bridge Walk near Annapolis, an Orioles' home game, the Baltimore Waterfront Festival, the Federal Hill Block Party, the Baltimore Museum of Art Antiques Show, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival at Howard County Fairgrounds, the Baltimore Women's Show at Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, the start of the ZOOfari exhibit at the Baltimore Zoo, Community Day at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, and Civil War Living History Day at the Steppingstone Museum near Havre de Grace.

"We've been going here since we've gone to school here," said Heidi Logan, 30, a Towson University alumna who drove 50 minutes yesterday from Felton, Pa., with her husband and three children to attend the Towsontown festival.

"It's a tradition," said her husband Steve, 30.

Sponsored by the Towson Business Association to boost downtown and raise money for local programs, the street fair has always been held the first week- end of May, said Susan K. DiLonardo, TBA's executive director.

People return year after year, other events notwithstanding.

"My son is 35," said Minnie Bean of Perry Hall. "I wouldn't doubt I was here for the first one."

She sat on a bench holding two bags stuffed with giveaways from businesses and county agencies.

Among the cache was a blue chip-bag clip, a red flying disc, a green insulated drink holder, a red cup, a black Power Rangers lunch bag, granola bars, assorted pencils and gripper pads, and "a lot of Pepto-Bismol," Bean said. And she still had about half the festival to visit.

The aroma of food permeated the hillside. In the afternoon sun, cheese steak, sausage and grilled chicken stands boasted lines of two dozen people. People crowded around every funnel cake tent and ice cream van. Mountains of squeezed lemon halves, dented cans and empty cups decorated with paper umbrellas were all that was left of thousands of drinks.

By 4 p.m. yesterday, Deputy Dogs had been emptied of its 3,000 hot dogs that sold for $1 each. The stand is run by the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents the Baltimore County sheriff's deputies.

"This is the best year we've had," said Mike Corrigan, president of the FOP lodge.

The exposure to many people brought the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show, replete with its reptiles and habitat protection message, to the festival, though it's not a moneymaker for the group.

"This crowd here is educated. They're asking good questions. They care about wild stuff, they are appreciative," said Tim Hoen, who was coordinating the only booth that had an 18-foot Burmese python.

Sporting a pink butterfly on her cheek, Marypeyton Randolph, 4, of Woodlawn ran circles around her parents and a toy stand as her father, Peyton Randolph, 43, held up the feathery dreamcatcher he got for her. He and his wife, Belinda, 43, wouldn't think of skipping the festival.

"It's the start of summer," he said.

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