By Curt Brown
NEW BEDFORD – The 16th annual Summerfest set an attendance record for the second consecutive year and provided a boost to recession-weary merchants downtown.
Pat Daughton, manager of the festival, said ticket sales were way up this year for the two-day event, which showcases folk music in several venues and an array of arts and crafts nestled in the city’s historic district
“The crowds are unbelievable,” she said in an interview Sunday afternoon. “Online (ticket) sales are double.”
She said the record crowds came despite $5 price increases each of the last two years.
“It’s a clear indicator that people are willing to pay for this festival because they feel it’s worth it,” she said.
Sunday’s daylong cloudy skies worked to the festival’s advantage, as it wasn’t as hot as previous years and didn’t hinder the crowd.
Around 5 p.m., despite the threat of showers that hung in the air for much of the afternoon, people were still arriving for Summerfest, which officially brought the curtain down at 9 p.m.
Downtown merchants – many of whom aren’t usually open on Sundays – were thrilled with the business.
“This is the best weekend of the year for us, including Christmas,” said Amanda Alexis, who works at Moby Dick Retail and its sister store across the street on William Street, The Bedford Merchant.
“Business from Summerfest has been wonderful, excellent. People are buying all kinds of things,” she said.
“Business has been very good. A lot of people are coming in,” said Kristine Wilhelmsen, one of the owners of the Crystal Garden on Purchase Street, which sells crystal and jewelry.
Restaurants, too, were benefitting from the inundation downtown.
There were lines of people waiting for tables at Freestone’s, and No Problemo was so busy they couldn’t take the time to talk to a reporter. And they weren’t the only ones.
There were about 25 people eating lunch at Cafe Arpeggio, which is located just outside the historic district.
Suk Gould, the owner, said the crowds were better than she expected, but she added she tempered her expectations because of the sluggish economy.
Police said people were peaceful and respectful, as they normally are with Summerfest.
“People are walking around, shaking our hands, thanking us for what we do,” said Sgt. Al Sousa.
Daughton said there were so many people they sold out of Summerfest T-shirts. She said people like them as souvenirs and organizers agreed to accept orders and ship them once they’re printed.
“We were conservative. We didn’t think they would sell out this fast.”
She said the one challenge the festival faced was its corporate sponsorships. The Friday night show was eliminated this year because of the lack of sponsorships.
Laura Orleans, the festival’s craft show coordinator, said there were 102 vendors this year, about 10 more than last year’s number.
Given two years of successive record crowds, Mayor Scott W. Lang said it may be time to expand Summerfest to the area of Purchase Street between William and Union streets.
He said he and his staff will meet with Summerfest organizers in the next few days to discuss the idea.
“It has been a great weekend with the (Cape Verdean Recognition) parade (on Saturday) and the Summerfest has been very strong,” he said. “We’re happy to have all these people in. They’ll be back.”
People said they mark their calendars and look forward to the event every year.
“I’ve come here every year for probably the last four years and I love it,” said Kim Kilman of Dartmouth.
She said they invite family down from other parts of the state to enjoy the festival with them. “I think it’s a nice way to see the city.”
Melissa and Jim O’Dowd of Mattapoisett and their son, Matt O’Dowd, said they love the music and idea of supporting independent artists.
“And it’s right in our back yard,” said Melissa O’Dowd.
July 04, 2011 12:00 AM
By Curt Brown