Day briefs county on festival economic performance

This year’s National Folk Festival had a $45 million total economic impact on the area and drew 153,911 unique visitors to the event, Salisbury Mayor Jake Day told Wicomico County Council members on Tuesday.

“That’s a good weekend in our community,” he said.

The recently released economic impact numbers are from a study by the Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network at Salisbury University. Over the festival weekend, graduate students surveyed visitors about their spending while they were in town over the Sept. 6-8 weekend, Day said.

The numbers are a lot higher than the 2018 event that had only a $20 million economic impact because of rainy weather most of the weekend that affected crowd size and spending.

This year’s event benefitted from good weather that attracted huge crowds all weekend, said festival director Caroline O’Hare.

Council President John Cannon said he was amazed at the crowds as he moved from stage to stage throughout the festival area.

“There wasn’t a moment when we weren’t standing there in awe,” he said.

Councilman Bill McCain said he and his out-of-town guests for the weekend were “enthralled” by the festival.

“Kudos,” he told Day. “It’s such a cool event.”

About one-third of the $1.1 million budget for the festival came from the state and one-third from corporate and individual sponsors, Day said. The remaining third came from the city of Salisbury, Wicomico County, Ocean City and Worcester County, plus revenue from sales and vendor fees at the event.

The free event was spread throughout Downtown Salisbury and featured some 350 performers on seven stages, ranging from bluegrass, zydeco, Texas swing and Irish tunes to Navaho hoop dancers, Appalachian storytelling, and music from China, Iraq and Guatemala.

Some of the artists went to Wicomico County schools in advance of the festival where they performed for about 3,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, O’Hare said.

“I thought that was a real huge plus,” Cannon told her.

This year, festival organizers spent $10,000 on marketing for downtown businesses as a way to help merchants and restaurant owners reap the benefits of the throngs of people roaming through the festival area, O’Hare said.

As a result, Downtown businesses reported good sales as Roadie Joe’s and other businesses lured in customers with food and wares in pop-up stands on sidewalks.

Day said the Brick Room, Maya Bella’s, Angello’s Scoops, Lurking Class Skate Shop and Kuhn’s Jewelers all reported strong sales over the weekend, with some setting records.

Roadie Joe’s had $26,684 in weekend sales inside and $1,950 outside in a tent on the Downtown Plaza, and Angello’s Scoops, which had just opened the day before the festival, sold 2,200 ice cream cones and the same number of ice cream bowls.

Aside from the economic impact on the Salisbury area, Cannon said the festival helps address a question long posed by businesses and people looking to relocate: What is there to do in Wicomico County?

O’Hare said other smaller festivals and events have started popping up downtown since the inaugural National Folk Festival last year.

City Administrator Julia Glanz said she recently visited Richmond, Virginia, which hosted the National Folk Festival 15 years ago and now sponsors its own music festival.

“It’s now becoming a huge arts city,” she said.

Salisbury, too, will continue to host a folk festival starting in 2021 after the national organization ends its three-year run next year, Day said.

“As long as the community wants it, this will keep going,” he said.

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