After being forced to take an off-year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lorie and David English of New Bern are looking forward to the hundreds of new customers they gain at the World of Bluegrass Festival in downtown Raleigh.
“It’s our best event every year,” David English said.
Together, the couple own Junkman’s Crossroads, one of the many street vendors that adorn the sidewalks along Fayetteville with their quirky, colorful and crafty creations.
Lorie specializes in handbags made out of upcycled materials like mid-century-era feed and seed sacks. David’s guitar-shaped kazoos made from locally-sourced upcycled wood are one of the most popular items hanging from their shelves.
“I get a lot of wood from a guy in Hillsborough,” English said. “Somebody will ask him to cut a tree because it’s fallen or it’s about to fall. He’ll go take that tree out and cut it up. He uses that for his projects, and stuff he doesn’t use, he passes down to me.”
Just in the first day of the festival, English said he sold about a dozen kazoos, which can cost $35 to $75. But he says Saturday is always the bigger day.
“We hit half (of Friday’s) mark before the shows even opened,” he said. “It was all people just meandering through.”
A few tents down was Ndidi Kowalczwk of Garner. She’s the owner of Hothouse Posey, a handmade jewelry and home decor shop.
Kowalczwk and her husband, Doug, have been bringing their eclectic assortment of enamel earrings, necklaces and decor to the festival for the past seven years. She says the event kicks off her holiday season.
“October is starting holiday planning and holiday income,” Kowalczwk said. “This is always a really good start to my holiday.”
On average, Kowalczwk estimates meeting hundreds of people who stop by their tent throughout the weekend. Dozens of passersby become customers who end up buying one of her unique pieces to take home.
Both the Kowalczwks and the Englishes agree that the bluegrass festival’s attendees are their target audience thanks to their inclination for the homegrown and rustic.
The last time the full festival was held in 2019, the City of Raleigh estimated that 218,000 people attended shows, leading to an $18.65 million economic impact.
In May, The News & Observer reported that since the festival’s move to Raleigh, the city also estimates total attendance at 1.3 million and that $80 million has flowed into Wake County as the event’s host.
Due to COVID-19, last year’s festival was all virtual, with concerts streamed online instead of in-person throughout downtown Raleigh. This year, the festival had a combination of in-person shows and streamed concerts and thousands of people filled the blocked-off downtown streets.