When she walked downtown and talked to other merchants, she was pleasantly surprised to find 25 other businesses that also wanted to participate. While the inaugural Appalachian Heritage Festival won’t be a huge production like the now-cancelled Franklin Folk Festival, McKay hopes it will increase traffic for downtown merchants.
“We’re trying to make lemonade with our lemons,” she said.
The Folk Heritage Association of Macon County announced in February that it would not be having the 12th annual Folk Festival in 2015 but would resume the festival in 2016. Same thing happened with the annual Airing of the Quilts event that happens in Franklin every Mother’s Day weekend.
“My store alone lost $2,000 over last year by not having the Airing of the Quilts, and economically we just can’t have that,” McKay said. “During the Taste of Scotland Festival we realized that not having the Folk Festival we usually look forward to is really going to affect us.”
Within a matter of three weeks, McKay and the other merchants have pulled together a first-time festival that will not only focus on Appalachian culture but will showcase the variety of shopping options in downtown Franklin. McKay said other festivals tend to bring in outside vendors that set up on Main Street.
These types of festivals attract tourists, but they don’t necessarily draw the tourists into the shops. Closing off Main Street for festivals also can present a problem for merchants. The Appalachian Heritage Festival will leave Main Street open while demonstrators and activities set up along the sidewalks.
“We have an interesting variety of stores, but we have to get people downtown to see them,” McKay said.
Kevin Klatt, owner of Ruby City Gems, is thrilled to finally feel included in a downtown Franklin festival. Because of where his shop is located on East Main Street, he said the cones used to block downtown often keep visitors from venturing down to his business during events.
“I think it’s the most awesome thing they’ve done in many years,” he said about the merchants taking the initiative to put on their own event. “This is the way it’s supposed to be — other festivals were hurting some people. We certainly lost money.”
McKay said the festival will include 50 demonstrators including a basket maker, a canoe builder, potters, cornshuck doll makers, gem cutters, musicians and people displaying their classic cars and tractors. The festival also will include a checkers tournament, face painting and other crafts for children. Local restaurants will be serving traditional food, including beans and potatoes.
“We don’t have any funding from anybody — we’re just a small town coming together and deciding if we need to get something done, we’ve got to do it ourselves,” McKay said.
Franklin Town Manager Summer Woodard said it was great to see the merchants working together to increase traffic downtown. It’s also a good sign of better communication and cooperation between the town and the merchants.
“It’s a great idea especially with the Appalachian heritage theme,” she said. “It’s wonderful seeing them all work together. Linda (McKay) has been great to work with and she’s gone above and beyond getting this together so quickly.”
The town isn’t providing any funding for the festival that just cropped up a few weeks ago, but Woodard said the town is helping facilitate it by letting the merchants use the gazebo and clock tower area downtown for demonstrators, letting them use the lower town hall parking lot for the classic car show and helping them hang banners to publicize the event.
Outdoor 76 plans to have a canoe builder demonstrating outside the business and a local 10-year-old who is a talented fly fisherman will be demonstrating how to tie a fly.
Rob Gasbarro, co-owner of Outdoor 76, said he was happy to be a part of the festival.
“We’re not having a Folk Festival this year, so it’s awesome to see merchants champion this whole thing — to say ‘we’re not going to let nothing happen because those people didn’t come through this year,’” he said.
Outdoor 76 has a different type of business than other merchants and not having a festival doesn’t impact its bottom line as much as it does for others. However, Gasbarro said, he and co-owner Cory McCall have made it a priority to be part of the community and do what is best for all the businesses in Franklin.
“We’ve always tried to do our best and have a stewardship mindset,” he said. “Our business is depending on the community’s support of us and we want to support the community.”
Klatt said Ruby City Gems would have local gemstones and jewelry on display outside the store, take-home gem bags and buckets and demonstrations of gem stone-cutting equipment. He hopes the merchants continue with the effort to hold special events like this even if the Folk Festival returns next year.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do it several times a year. We can do it during the three gem shows a year,” he said. “We need to do some advertising, put signs up and get people out of town coming through here.”
The Main Street Program, which decided to go into an “inactive” status earlier this year, had been a big help to the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County in the last several years as the Folk Festival became too large for volunteers to manage, according to Chairman Anne Hyder.
Specifically, a partnership between the town’s Main Street Program and the association made sure the Folk Festival had assistance with grant writing, bookkeeping, food and craft vendors, insurance and road closures.
When Main Street Program Coordinator Linda Schlott resigned, the town chose not to fill the position. Instead, the town committed to taking over four Main Street Program events — Fourth of July, Pumpkin Fest, Veterans Day and Winter Wonderland. But without that support position in place to assist with the Folk Festival, the Folk Heritage Association board voted to not hold the event in 2015.
Hyder said the board is still considering offering the festival next year if it is done on a much smaller scale. In lieu of coordinating the Franklin Folk Festival this year, the Folk Heritage Association is working with some additional venues to offer some demonstrators, jammin’ groups and old car exhibits with the concert series at the Heritage Center at Cowee School this summer and fall.
Want to go?
Inaugural Appalachian Heritage Festival
• 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Saturday, July 18
• Downtown Franklin