They're back! After the 2020 fall festival season was decimated by COVID-19 cancellations, this season's festival calendar is filled with more than 90 events that range from old favorites such as Ketner's Mill to new additions like the Harvest Celebration on the Mountain at Flat Top Mountain Farm in Soddy-Daisy.
Festivals, foliage and football are the trifecta of fall fun in the Southeast, so the loss of last year's festival circuit was disappointing to fans who enjoy these weekend day trips. But it was devastating for the nonprofits and craftsmen who rely on that income. They are hoping to recoup their losses with a successful season this year.
"Basically, we didn't have any income, but still the expenses," says Mikey Sims, director of Prater's Mill Country Fair, after the cancellation of that seasonal favorite last October. All proceeds from the annual fair are used by the Prater's Mill Foundation to maintain the historic site near Dalton, Ga.
"We gave our exhibitors the option of rolling over their payment or a refund. Luckily for the past several years we've managed to make some money from the fair instead of breaking even or going into debt," says Sims, who declined to give estimations of the loss. He said the foundation pulled from those savings to pay for expenses that had been purchased in advance.
Prater's Mill is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the Oct. 9-10 fair. Sims says due to last year's loss of funds there is pressure to "at least break even, but it would be nice if we can pay back the money from savings that we had to pay in advance to have this year's fair."
"When you take out an almost $100,000 fundraiser, it encourages you to tighten up your belt and look for other ways to raise funds," says Jane Kaylor, director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga. That's what happened in 2020 when the nonprofit's annual Autumn Children's Festival was canceled. The children's event has been canceled for this season as well.
"The children's festival is one of our largest fundraisers," Kaylor says. "It supports our Share-A-Night program. It costs $75 per night to provide our services to families staying in the house. Most of our sponsors said keep the money, and we transferred that to the Adopt-a-Meal program."
The Adopt-a-Meal program is composed of individuals and groups who voluntarily provide a meal for families staying in the house (25 to 50 people). Since volunteers were not allowed in the house on Central Avenue to deliver and prepare meals last year, Kaylor says local restaurants generously donated food to assist the program.
After craftswoman Cindy Lowery retired from the business world she turned her side gig, Cindy's Clay Creations, into her full-time job. Lowery creates ornaments, nativities, gnomes, holiday figurines and more from clay. A regular at Ketner's Mill, she has built a following who return each year to add her newest ideas to their collections.
"Ketner's Mill was 75% of my craft show income for the last 10 years," she says. "Ketner's money is what I lived on from January to May. I had put all my eggs in the craft basket. I also count on Easter and Mother's Day sales, but stores closed in March last year, so I lost that too. It was scary last year."
Lowery had the foresight to take preventive measures when she saw COVID was going to cancel the 2020 craft season. She was able to get her work accepted at Vinterest in September, and she allowed her regular customers to order directly from her with contactless delivery,
Sand Mountain craftsman Darren Mitchell dropped from working 160 shows between March and Christmas to barely a handful. Mitchell sells handmade ballpoint pens and bread boards through his company, DM Woodturning, his sole income.
"It was a huge loss. I went from making really good money to about a third of what I did the year before," Mitchell says, adding he had no backup plan.
He was able to pick up a few outdoor shows last summer, one of them being Sunflower Stables Barn Sale & Market. Sunflower Stables and the Bird 'n' Barn sale were among the few outdoor craft shows that did not cancel. Show runners for both say extra precautions were put in place such as lowering the number of vendors so booths could be spaced further apart, everyone wearing masks and adding hand sanitation stations so their shows could go on.
Sunflower Stables will hold its popular show Sept. 17-19 in the Collegedale Commons with 50 vendors. Margaret Long says even though she had limited the number of vendors to 30 last year, "the crowd was tremendous. I think that may be because the Commons is open-air, and people had been inside and just wanted out."
Cathy Farmer of Sand Mountain Farmhouse has been with Sunflower Stables since it began eight years ago.
"It's the only show I do. Last year was the biggest show I ever had there. I sold twice what I usually do. People had been trapped inside so long that once they got out, they were ready to buy," says Farmer.
Hailey Johnston, an event organizer of Bird 'n' Barn sale at Black Fox Farm in Cleveland, Tennessee, already has high hopes for its craft show on Oct. 22-23. Bird 'n' Barn supports the nonprofit Free 2 Fly, which mentors women and teaches them the skill of sewing to help them become self-supporting.
Although last year's show took about a 15% loss in income and was down about 30% in visitors, Johnston believes that is, in part, because the show took only 19 vendors in order to make room to socially distance booths.
"This year we will be back up to 30 vendors, we've moved the show to a weekend so people don't have a conflict with work and we have the capability to move things outside if needed," she says.
Tear out the following fall festival list and keep it handy for your guide to weekend fun. Also, check Times Free Press online where more events will be added as they are submitted.