OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi — Last weekend’s Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival in downtown Ocean Springs was something of a mixed bag.
On the plus side, participating vendors and local businesses reported strong sales despite the reduced scope and attendance for the festival.
“Overall, the event went extremely well,” said Cynthia Sutton, Executive Director of the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the annual event, now in its 42nd year. “The vendors loved the new (expanded) layout and several said they made more money on Saturday alone this year than they have over the full two days in previous years. The vendors were happy and excited.”
While official attendance figures are not yet available, Sutton said this year’s crowd levels were “substantially down” from prior years, “but still a great turnout.”
Chris Collier, owner of The Office at what amounts to ground zero for the festival at the corner of Washington Avenue and Government Street, was one of the business owners pleased with the results.
“We did as good as we could under difficult circumstances,” Collier said. “My businesses may have been down a bit due to the circumstances, but that was to be expected. I thought the chamber and the City did a great job getting the festival together.”
Collier credited the chamber and the City for their efforts in putting on the festival under less than ideal circumstances — particularly Ocean Springs aldermen Rickey Authement, Bobby Cox and Rob Blackman.
“Those two did a great job,” Collier said of the three aldermen. “They were out, very visible, very hands-on and very helpful. They should be recognized for the job they did.”
On the negative side, however, during some of the festival’s peak hours, it was clear fewer than half of those attending were complying with Gov. Tate Reeves’ COVID-19 executive order mandating masks at large public events, despite the best efforts of the chamber of commerce. Social distancing was also, at times, non-existent — with the event coming just three days after Jackson County reported nine new COVID-19 deaths, a single-day high.
“Of course I was (concerned),” Sutton said when asked about the lack of masks on many attendees. “The City is not enforcing it. They just recommend it. We tried to do the best we could by handing out masks to people as they entered. It’s just so hard to catch everybody, but we did try to hand them out as much as possible. We had signage up asking people to wear masks and social distance.”
Sutton also noted the chamber met with vendors, City officials and businesses owners prior to the festival to help police the event to try and ensure people were complying with COVID-19 regulations as much as possible.
“It was up to each individual business to ask their customers to wear masks,” she said. “It’s big partnership between the City, chamber, businesses and vendors to do their individual part to make sure there were masks being worn. We did our part by handing out the masks, but that’s the best we could do.”
Outside of the COVID-19 concerns, however, most believed the event to have been a success, given the circumstances, with Sutton noting that while the number of attendees may have been greatly reduced, those who did come “were ready to shop.”
“I thought the festival as a whole was as good as it could possibly be under the circumstances,” Collier said. “They had great vendors, everybody was in a great mood, everybody seemed to be spending money. We did that about as good as we could do it. I think it was a success, personally.”