The tents are up, the hay bales are out, the storefront displays are bright and inviting and there’s a certain buzz among downtown Jonesborough’s business owners as they prepare for the three-day National Storytelling Festival, which kicks off today.
From art shops to restaurants and clothing stores, most of the business owners in Tennessee’s oldest town look forward to the first weekend of October because of the amount of people the festival typically brings in.
Tava Cook, owner of Jonesborough Art Glass, has seen her business continue to climb during the festival weekend after 31 years in the town.
“It’s a great class of people. They’re interesting. They’re very nice. They’re respectful of the town. We really enjoy it, plus it brings money in,” she said.
Cook said the festival benefits all of downtown Jonesborough’s businesses. The quality of the items and the deals often offered during the festival are usually the big draws when it comes to shopping during the weekend.
Although the festival doesn’t begin until today, the storytelling early birds have already frequented Cook’s shop. She said she’ll have people come in with Christmas lists and buy a box full of gifts. At the end of the festival, many of those items will be shipped all over the country.
The influx of shoppers at Jonesborough Art Glass helps keep the business afloat during the year’s more trying times, Cook said.
“We call it our getting-through-the-winter money, cause it can get really slow in these little towns when it gets cold and people don’t want to have to walk from store to store, so it’s huge. It’s very important,” she said.
With the financial issues the International Storytelling Center has been dealing with, Cook said she and some of the other shops have been worried about what kind of effect that could have on the festival’s attendance, and, in turn, the weekend’s business. She said they won’t really know until the festival has come and gone.
“We all love storytelling and the storytellers. Yeah, we need it,” she said. “We’re hopeful that it’ll be OK. It’s starting off well.”
Ann Wooden of Marj on Main, a women’s clothing store, echoed Cook’s thoughts when asked if she thought the numbers would be down in the wake of the ISC’s financial woes.
Wooden said it could certainly hurt business in the future if the troubles aren’t ironed out, but she doesn’t think the attendance will suffer much this year.
“I think this year it probably will not affect any but if it doesn’t get straightened out, it could affect in years to come,” she said.
Regardless of the center’s troubles, Wooden said working at a business during the festival is always an exciting time.
“This is a big boost weekend. (We) always try to bring in a little extra and a little something special for the storytelling people, and we have return customers that were here last year or the year before,” she said.
Restaurants in downtown Jonesborough also see a surge in business during the weekend. Jo Storie, co-owner of The Cranberry Thistle, said the additional customers from the festival tend to double or triple what they would make during a normal weekend.
While the added business is certainly a plus, Storie said it’s just an exciting time for everyone in Jonesborough.
“Everybody just gets caught up in it. All the girls that work here and the guys and it’s just an enjoyable time,” she said.
But it’s not just the businesses in downtown Jonesborough that benefit from the festival. With the amount of activity in Jonesborough over the weekend, finding a parking spot can be difficult. For three years in a row, the majority of the budget for Cherokee United Methodist Church’s youth group has been funded by donations from festivalgoers who have utilized the youth group’s parking lot near the AmericInn hotel in Jonesborough.
“It’s always interesting when times get tight the creative ways that we have to find to meet needs and we’re using these funds to meet kids’ needs who want to go on trips or retreats who can’t afford to go otherwise,” director of youth ministries Brad Parker said.
Aside from meeting funding needs, Parker said the kids in the youth group are really out to just extend hospitality during one of Jonesborough’s biggest events.
On Thursday, the town’s Visitors Center was filled with people registering for the festival.
Director of Tourism Alicia Phelps said about 2,500 people had already registered, and she expected that number to double or triple today, which is typically the case for the festival. Despite the financial troubles, Phelps said this year could see one of the biggest turnouts the festival has seen. “I think this is going to be a huge boost not only for storytelling but for Jonesborough, because this is the international storytelling capital of the world, and it always will be, so it’s a really special place in everybody’s hearts,” she said.