MOUNT OLIVE — The threat of stormy weather and rescheduling to an earlier date affected the crowd size and some events at the 33rd annual North Carolina Pickle Festival, organizers said.
The earlier date, April 12-13, which was Palm Sunday weekend, also could have played a part in the festival’s shortage of volunteers, festival organizers said.
The festival is normally held during the last weekend in April. It was moved up two weeks to avoid conflict with the Wings Over Wayne Air Show held April 27-28 at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
But even with a slightly smaller crowd, and some events that canceled because of the weather, the festival was still successful and planning is underway for next year, co-chairmen Julie Beck and Lynn Williams said during a Monday night festival review session.
One bright spot was that all of the vendor spots sold out, something Beck said she could not remember ever happening before.
“We have 180 spots, but that doesn’t mean we have 180 vendors since some take two or three,” she said. “But we have never filled all 180 spots. I don’t know if that happened because of the weekend change or what was the reason for that.
“About two weeks before the festival, we had to stop taking vendors. Unless it was someone local that we knew, we didn’t take anybody else because we were completely sold out.”
The festival also benefited from having good sponsors and more of them, Williams said.
“But overall, I think the attendance was down some,” Mayor Joe Scott said.
Beck agreed, but said she did not know if it was so much the weekend change or the threat of bad weather, even though weather conditions developed into a brief afternoon thunderstorm on the festival’s main day, April 13.
“I just think that we go back to our original (weekend),” Scott said.
Beck said she has notified the county’s tourism office that the festival is going back to its original date going forward.
The Friday night, April 12, events went on despite rain.
The concert was moved inside at Ribeyes Steakhouse. Participants in the Cuke Patch 5K ran in the rain, and the carnival rides were held as well.
There is a need to make sure there is a formal backup plan next year, just in case it rains again, Beck said.
The threat of rain on the Saturday of the festival kept away many of the vehicles that would have been in the car show. Also, the antique tractor display canceled, as did the petting zoo and camel rides.
Scott said he spoke to many people on April 13 who wanted to know where the Circus Stella was located. The circus was unable to participate because of the earlier date.
A new popular attraction was the Fresh Start Rescue that featured a variety of snakes.
“I stood and watched it from afar,” Williams said.
Beck said she had held a large yellow boa across her shoulders.
Among the crowd were a number of out-of-state guests who had found out about the festival online, Scott said.
Scott said a couple from Richmond, Virginia, attended as did residents from Mount Olive, New Jersey.
“They went back and their mayor called me a week ago and wanted to know if we would partner up with them and be sister cities,” Scott said. “So next year, we (town) are having our sesquicentennial on March 1, so I am inviting them to come down to that. The following year is their sesquicentennial. So, we are going to go up there.
“They have 28,000 people in their township. I thought it was real neat. I think that will be a good thing for us to do next year.”
Also, a family of 14 came all the way from Charlotte.
Beck said more and more people from the Charlotte area are attending the festival and that she and Williams need to start doing more marketing in that area.
Planning is already underway looking forward to next year that requires some shifting of the helicopter ride, parking and free shuttles normally stationed at the University of Mount Olive.
The change is because the university for the next three years will be hosting the NCAA Division 2 lacrosse tournament and will not have room for the parking or shuttles.
Beck said it might still be possible to station the helicopter rides at the university.
“If the helicopter is not where the shuttle is, it might not get as much traffic,” Beck said. “But we are going to have to think about where we are going to move that shuttle.”
More than 600 people were at the university for a recent regional tournament, Scott said.
“We need to reach out and somehow get information to them so that they can pass on to the people that if they are not participating, that maybe they will want to come down to the festival,” he said.
It might still be a good idea to have a shuttle from the university to downtown for those who might want to go, Williams said.
One idea to reach those at the tournament is to send media kits to the different universities participating in the tournament.
It might be a possible as well to get the festival brochure out earlier for distribution, and there is also the Pickle Festival app, Williams said.
The biggest problem is going to be lodging, Scott said. There are not enough hotel rooms in town to handle that size crowd and as such many are expected to be staying at Warsaw and Goldsboro.
That “kills” their activity in the town, he said.