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Festivals: Economy causing event organizers to cut back

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

A slow economy is affecting local festivals, but a decrease in festival number, and size, could also affect the local economy.

The economy convinced Bill Brabson and the Winyah Bay Heritage Festival committee to put the annual Martin Luther King Day event on hold for 2010.

“We probably saw a 30 percent decrease in sponsor giving,” he said of the 2009 festival. “We depend solely on contributions for these folks to get this thing up and running. We didn’t want this to come across as not a first class festival.”

The committee will make a decision about the 2011 festival in May, he said.

Until then, Brabson hopes the economy will improve.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “We thought we’d be out of this by now. It’s tough to try to put on a festival when people are trying to figure out if they can make their mortgage payments and put food on the table,” he said.

The “Cattails and Coattails” dinner will continue next January, however.

Georgetown County tourism coordinator Sally Hogan said Winyah Bay Heritage festival did attract more out of town guests than other Georgetown festivals. She said it is hard to track where tourists are coming from during the weeks and weekends of festivals, but she can tell how well local tourism is doing by checking accommodations numbers.

Hogan will only have to check two weekends of accomodations numbers to find out how many people rented rooms during this year’s Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art. The economy forced Brookgreen Gardens to move to a two- rather than three-weekend schedule in September.

“It’s a tough year for everyone, and the sponsorship money is tighter and the potential for buying tickets is a little tighter,” said Delores Blount, executive director for the festival.

Jennifer Averette, Murrells Inlet 2020 spokesperson, said Brookgreen does a good job advertising their events, so she doesn’t really know how many tourists the gardens might loose.

She hadn’t thought about the impact to the Murrells Inlet community, but thinks that canceling or shortening festivals does affect all local economies.

Less weekends means fewer hotel stays, and fewer visitors eating at local restaurants and buying local products as souvenirs.

In Murrells Inlet, Averette said the seafood restaurants might loose customers since the third weekend of the festival was cut.

Another event, the annual Festival of Trees, has also been canceled for this year, but not because of the economy.

Tidelands Community Hospice, which organizes the festival, wants to focus on a new venture: a resale store.

“It will offer us the opportunity to increase the outreach for people in the community,” Barriedel Llorens, Tideland’s outreach coordinator, said.

“It will allow Tidelands Hospice to partner with area organizations to provide community support, and it will offer a safe and comfortable place for bereaved individuals to take a loved one’s possessions,” she said.

However, putting the festival on hold will hurt the local businesses that benefit from the festival’s foot traffic, said Richard Duffany, owner of Jewelry by Richard.

“It will impact everybody,” Sue Townsend of the Chocolate and Coffee House, said.

“I’m sure a lot of people will be disappointed.”

She doesn’t solely rely on sales at the exchange, unlike Duffany who is now fixing more jewelry than selling it. Instead, Townsend ships her chocolate to locations around the country and overseas.

The festival’s cancellation may affect the stores’ incomes, but John Carroll, owner of the computer store Duplicates at Pawleys, said spending a Christmas without the trees will also be sad.

“It put me in the spirit,” he said.

Llorens said Tidelands has not made a final decision regarding the 2010 Festival of Trees.

Meanwhile, the resale store will open in July in the Winyah Shopping Center Village in Georgetown. It is located between Fred’s and Beef O’Brady’s.

While other organizations worry about financial donations, Llorens said Tidelands has been very successful in collecting clothing, home decor, kitchenware, linens and furniture.

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