May 22, 2007 - More than 35,000 people made their way to the Little River waterfront this weekend to enjoy the 26th annual Blue Crab Festival.
What started as a small local fest decades ago is now a major event for the area, drawing locals and visitors from all over the East Coast. The festival ran Saturday and Sunday and featured local food, arts and crafts, entertainment and fun. The event featured a 5K run, free throw basketball contests, a Harley poker run, helicopter rides, a special kid's area and a concurrent fishing tournament.
Daily entertainment added to the atmosphere as local bands thrilled visitors to the celebration. Bands setting up in the big tent to show their talent were Donny and Susan Trexler, the Hitchhikers, Sea Cruz, the Coastline Band, the Craig Woolard Band, the Shakers and eight year old singing phenom Gabbie Rae.
The crowds were so heavy both days that parking was at a premium. Residents of the waterfront area showed their entrepreneurial spirit, offering their lawns and properties as "paid" parking lots. Some of the more enterprising residents offered a golf cart ride to the front gate for those who parked in their lots. The festival also offered shuttle services from three locations in the area, with folks lining up to hitch a ride to the gates.
Traffic stretched for miles heading into the area, but moved along at a brisk pace with little or no hold ups.
With more than 175 vendors on hand, the event offered something for everyone. Local artisans displayed their wares, as food vendors vied for the hungry. The waterfront was redolent with the aromas of seafood, smoked turkey legs, roasted corn, pizza, gyros, kettle corn, barbecue and scores of other delicious offerings for any palate. The food row of the event was the most popular, as people wandered about enjoying the flavor of the area.
Chris Efaw of Chris' Pizza in Little River was one of the food vendors, enjoying his first year at the festival. Efaw said "This certainly won't be our last year to participate. This has been great exposure for our restaurant". Food demonstrations were also a part of the show, as a cooking demonstration took place non stop both days. Representatives of Silver Coast Winery were also on hand to offer adult festival-goers a wine tasting.
Debra Kordiac of the Winery was enthusiastic about the crowd, stating "this is just wonderful. Not only does this give us a chance to educate folks about wine, but we also have made some great contacts. This has been great for our business".
Local merchants would probably agree with that sentiment. Waterfront restaurants enjoyed lines waiting to get in both days, and increased business. Craig Hill, organizer of the Festival, was pleased with the turnout. Hill said, "This is the biggest crowd I have seen. I don't have totals yet, but we think we had 25,000-30,000 people on Saturday and about 15,000 to 20,000 on Sunday". "The weather has been perfect. Most of our vendors did very well. The restaurant and food vendors did fabulous. This event is definitely good for the Little River business community," added Hill.
Though he declined to estimate a dollar figure for the economic impact on the area, Hill did say that "this helps give our businesses a chance. Hotels and restaurants in the area, and along the waterfront, have been sold out this weekend". Hill was also quick to credit the more than 200 volunteers for making the festival a success.
Local philanthropic organizations were on hand to take advantage of the huge crowds to get their messages out. Involved in the festival were the North Strand Optimists Club, the Little River Fire Department, the Little River Rotary Club, the Lions Club of Little River and the Elks of Little River. The groups interacted with festival-goers and their net proceeds will be given to various charities in the area.
The mood was festive and attendees were smiling. The traffic and parking issues were worth the effort, as they crowded the food area and shopped in the arts and crafts section, enjoying perfect weather and listening to live music.
The Jones family has just moved to the area from New Jersey and was impressed by the festival. Dad Willy Jones said, "This is really nice. This is our first time, but we really like it". Folks traveled across the state to attend the event as well.
Casey Pyke of Columbia came to the area with friends for the weekend, and made sure the Blue Crab Festival was part of their itinerary. Pyke stated, "we came here last year and loved it. The food is really great and it just fun a lot of fun. We definitely will be back again next year". For more pictures of the festival click here!