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Fall festival gives boost to local vendors

For many vendors, the 52nd Fall Street Festival held by Picayune Main Street Inc. was the first festival they were able to participate in this year. In the spring, many festivals were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Over the weekend West Canal Street bustled with families browsing craft booths, standing in line for mouth watering chicken and watching musical performances.

Children held onto panda shaped balloons and the Maroon Tide soccer team encouraged passers-by to try their luck at kicking a ball at a large dart board. Swashbuckling pirates posed for pictures with fair goers. Few wore face masks.

“Before the big outbreak I did on average three (fairs) a month,” said coppersmith Sky Tomson.

Tomson and his business partner Tony Aaron manned a booth filled with copper and brass creations, including a bird with a lizard clutched in its beak, wall mounted metal fish and brightly colored metal hummingbirds. For the last 10 years, Tomson has been following in his parents’ footsteps. His father was a copper smith for over 40 years and his mother was one for 27.

“Everybody’s cancelling,” said Tomson. “That’s no income for nearly a year, so I had to go get a second job, and hopefully the shows will start picking back up so I can go back to doing this full time.”

Tomson said he’s seen over 30 fairs cancelled, and many have begun including no refund policies if the fair is cancelled due to COVID-19, making the gamble of signing up cost prohibitive.

For Waveland based artist Kathleen Johnson, business has been booming, both at the festival and out of her studio. At the festival she sold pieces featuring coastal wildlife like alligators and pelicans, and consistent foot traffic kept her busy.

“Customers feel comfortable coming to small festivals and since they’re out in the open air as this one is, there’s no question about going,” she said. “It’s thriving, the outdoor living is thriving here in south Mississippi.”

Many of the people on the coast have second homes, said Johnson, and came to those homes to get away from more urban areas when the pandemic began.

“Well after two weeks sitting in the house, they opted to renovate. Well along with renovations comes decorating, so the art sales for the artists on the coast have probably quadrupled over the last few months. Of course, it’s not going to last that way.”

But Johnson is expecting more festivals to return to south Mississippi in the next two months. From her vantage point at the intersection of West Canal and South Main Street, one of the most popular booths was the balloon seller set up across the street.

“The kids are just, they’re just having a blast. I’ll hear mom go by with a kid and say ‘I’ll get you a balloon if you behave.’ This gentleman over here’s done more for behavior control at this festival than any of the other vendors here… It’s been a joy watching him operate for the last two days.”

Retiree Suzy Kinkella was excited to sell her pillows, table runners and seatbelt buddies at such a family oriented event.

Kinkella has sold her wares at other festivals, and her primary creative work is making marching canes for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in New Orleans. This was her first year with a booth at the Picayune festival.

“It was a little awkward at first with the rain, because mine’s all hand sewn and everything was getting a little soggy, but after that it was wonderful,” she said.

Her booth partner, Jill Eastridge, sold jewelry and brightly colored face masks. Eastridge donned a watermelon print mask, while Kinkella’s face was protected behind a fleur de lis.

Eastridge is a nurse, and began making cloth masks when the ones she had to wear at work made her too uncomfortable.

“I’m claustrophobic and I couldn’t handle them, so I started making my own and I’ve never sewed anything in my life and I made these and I was so proud of myself,” she said.

Although she was new to selling her own creations at the fair, Eastridge is a regular attendee.

“I love the street festival and the November one is usually on my birthday, so coming here is awesome,” she said.

Cherry Howard is well acquainted with the festival circuit. She has been selling her pickles, jellies, relishes, blankets and pillows at the Picayune festival for four years to supplement her income.

“We raised chicken for Sanderson for 20 years until Katrina decided we didn’t need them anymore and I started this, because I’ve always done jellies,” she said.

Howard does festivals regularly, and often sees returning customers. The many cancelled festivals left her with no location to sell quail eggs or mayhaw jelly in the spring.

As the street festival drew to a close Sunday, seamstress Janis Shaw’s stock of microwave bowl cozies was depleted and she was ready to pack up her glass cozies and cosmetic bags.

Shaw and her daughter work craft fairs together.

“We truly enjoy this time we can have together and we’ve done really well. Everybody’s just so nice in Picayune,” she said.