Towsontown fest set to begin today


As in years past, the Towsontown Fine Arts and Crafts Spring Festival will include antique cars, a children's area, music and food. But this year's edition of the festival -- which begins today -- features a bigger play zone for the kids and an additional stage for the tunes.

And the classic automobiles will share the spotlight with cars built for a different kind of roadway.

Five NASCAR race cars will be on site, including driver Donnie Neuenberger's car. The area, at Washington and Allegheny avenues, will also have a minitrack to race radio-controlled cars and a simulation game that puts participants in the driver's seat.

Festival Chairman Todd Huff said the idea for introducing NASCAR to the festival came, in part, because he's a big fan. Pointing to the sport's skyrocketing popularity, he predicted the display will be a "huge draw."

The festival -- which runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow in the heart of the county seat -- is put on by the Towson Chamber of Commerce. About three-quarters of the more than 400 vendors have worked at the event for at least a year, and some vendors have been coming to the festival, in its 39th year, since its inception, event coordinator Suzan Doordan said. New vendors are also participating, so visitors -- the chamber expects 250,000 to attend over the weekend -- have something new to see.

To further emphasize the festival's family orientation, Doordan said, the children's area has been moved to a more central location, next to Mercantile Bank between Pennsylvania and Chesapeake avenues. The area will have pony rides, a moon bounce and face painting.

The chamber found another way to rekindle the event, with some diversity and expansion. "We've always had three areas for entertainment. ... We always have classic rock there and the other beer garden, but we decided we needed diversity," Doordan said.

While radio station 100.7 The Bay's stage at the Plaza will continue to provide classic rock, first-time festival participant 93.1 WPOC will showcase country music at Tavern in the Park. Also, the 98 Rock beer garden will be tripled in size this year, Huff said.

But the festival will maintain its old favorites, with nearly 30 restored antique and classic cars, the children's area, which will be doubled in size from last year, and vendors with manufactured and homemade arts and crafts, as well as ethnic and carnival food.

Doordan added that the festival usually attracts many area nonprofit organizations.

"We're delighted we can bring so many nonprofit organizations in one place," she said. "There are more than 60 nonprofits that participate in this event. They either use our festival to distribute information or to use as a fundraiser for their organization."

Luciano's Entertainment and Cocos Bistro are the primary sponsors of this year's festival. There are more than 40 other sponsors. Chris Luciano, a member of the entertainment committee for the festival, said his company has been working at the festival for three years, running the information booth.

"I was in Scouts all my life and learned the values of giving back to the community. Being on the committee is a great way to give back," he said. "I wanted to see the organization grow. Promoting good business for the area is good for everybody."

The festival serves as a major fundraiser for the chamber, Doordan said, to "enhance the business community of the area." Huff declined to say how much the festival raises, but he said he expects to top last year's record, which was set despite a rainy Saturday.

The money goes toward a year of chamber projects, including hanging banners and planting flowers throughout the county seat, as well as scholarships and the annual holiday tree lighting.

But Doordan said the festival is really about having some fun.

"We hope a lot of young families come," she said.

Spring Festival

The 39th annual Towsontown Fine Arts and Crafts Spring Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow. Chesapeake and Pennsylvania avenues will be closed from York Road to Bosley Avenue, and Washington Avenue will be closed from Allegheny to Susquehanna avenues.

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