By Emily Weaver
Dunn Daily Record
The North Carolina Cotton Festival is canceled. Denim Days is pushed back to December.
For the second year in a row, Dunn and Erwin event organizers felt they had no choice but to scrap their fall festival plans as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
In a letter to vendors and sponsors mailed with returned checks, North Carolina Cotton Festival Director Sharon Stevens said they received less than a third of the vendors who usually sign up for Dunn’s largest celebration.
“In a normal year, by September 1st, the NC Cotton Festival applications turned in would number over 150. Being that 150 is the maximum I could safely give spots to, I would also have a waiting list of 30-40,” Stevens said. “This year I have only received 35 total applications by the deadline. I did contact several of my longest vendors and responses back were: ‘In crafts, my supplies have gone up in price,’ or ‘I can’t get what I need. This would make the cost of my crafts more than I feel like I can safely recoup with a decent profit.’ Another sentimentality was ‘We’re older and don’t know who will be coming in our booth and touching my products and I can’t take the chance of getting sick.’”
Nearly a year of planning goes into each Cotton Festival along with the costs of advertising, ordering and buying T-shirts, insurance, staging, sound equipment and other necessities to entertain crowds in the thousands.
Dunn held the big event every year for 21 years before the pandemic shut it down, stealing the economic boon downtown businesses came to rely on heading into the Christmas season.
The Cotton Festival is usually held the first Saturday in November. By September, Stevens has a set list of vendors and starts spending money she can’t get back, hoping she’ll have enough vendors to pay for it all and provide an event equal to the standard they’ve set before.
“If we couldn’t provide an event of equal quality to the past years people would be disappointed and would not plan on coming back next year,” Stevens said.
“We are sorry for any inconvenience but please know this was not an easy decision,” Stevens wrote on the NC Cotton Festival-Dunn, NC Facebook page.
“My main objective is to provide an event that everyone can enjoy without fear of any kind. We also want this festival to be one everyone can walk away from knowing they were entertained and provided a safe family fun opportunity,” she wrote to vendors.
Denim Days change
The decision to postpone Denim Days was also hard in Erwin. Though town officials still plan to hold some events in its place.
The Erwin Area Chamber of Commerce plans to hold an outdoor concert complete with food trucks Saturday night, Oct. 2, at Al Woodall Memorial Park. The Carolina Rattlers will take the stage from 6 to 8 p.m., followed by Identity Crisis from 8-10 p.m.
A Crescent Run on the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail will kick off at 3 p.m. Oct. 3. Registration begins at 2:30 p.m. for adults ($15 to sign up) and children ($10 to sign up). Winners in different age divisions will receive $25 gift certificates from Burney’s Sweets & More of Erwin.
A Denim Days Gospel Sing is still set for 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, in the Erwin First Baptist Church parking lot and the rest of the festival will be held in December.
“We don’t want to cancel so we’re actually going to move Denim Days to Dec. 4,” said Gay Wilson, president of the Erwin Area Chamber of Commerce. “It will be Denim Days Holidays. The only thing we will not have is a parade with it like we normally do because our Christmas parade will be that Monday night.”
Wilson said they decided to move the main festivities to December after seeing the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in Harnett County. Wilson volunteers at a local hospital and said she’s heard doctors predict the cases should start trending back downward after October.