ERWIN — While those among the crowds of folks gathered in downtown Erwin for the first day of the 34th annual Unicoi County Apple Festival should have no difficulty finding some apples to take home, the event offers festivalgoers far more.
Numerous arts and crafts and food vendors line the sides of the streets, selling everything from “canjos,” or banjos made from aluminum cans, to homemade fudge. No matter the wares peddled, it seems that most vendors who set up at the Unicoi County Apple Festival agree that the event is a great way to get the word out about their businesses.
Among them is B.D. Hitch, who is actually known to many Apple Festival attendees for his grape products. Hitch is the owner of the Maryville-based Crockett Creek Muscadine Juice, which as the name implies, sells juice made purely from muscadines, the only grape species native to North America.
Many festival attendees stop to sample the red and white muscadine juice at Hitch’s booth, and many of those end up taking home a bottle or two. Hitch brought 105 cases of his muscadine juice to this year’s festival, but by Friday afternoon empty boxes were piled up behind his booth. This, Hitch said, has been common for the 10 years he has set up shop at the Apple Festival.
“You get some reorders,” he said. “We’ve been sold out probably five out of the 10 years we’ve been here.”
Juanita Payne Dobson is a fellow Apple Festival veteran. Payne is an artisan with Greeneville-based Buckthorn Artistic Originals. While she also makes jewelry, the self-taught artist’s specialty is the painting of ornate images on turkey, peacock and grouse feathers.
The majority of Dobson’s work is commissioned, with some purchased by buyers in other countries. Along with art shows, Dobson said the Apple Festival is another way for her to display her work and get the word out about her business. Buckthorn Artistic Originals has had a booth at the festival for the past 11 years.
“It’s a good show for us,” she said. “We do very well here.”
New to the Apple Festival is the C&G Designs booth, which primarily sells concrete leaves as fountains, signs and wall hangings. While Gweyn Bonnin with C&G Designs, based in Newland, N.C., said sales aren’t as strong as she had hoped for at her first Apple Festival, Bonnin said the people of Unicoi County have been great.
“As far as setting up for a show, it’s been a good experience,” Bonnin said. “We just hope to get more buyers tomorrow.”
Although the Apple Festival features a plethora of crafts and food, the apples themselves continue to be a big draw. Tracy Darr, with Johnson City-based Stanley’s Produce & Garden Center, said business has been especially good at the produce stand, which has become a mainstay in front of the Unicoi County Courthouse over the past 14 festivals.
“It shouldn’t be like this on Friday,” she said. “That’s how good it’s going.”
The 30 bushels of honeycrisp apples the Stanley’s booth had for sale Friday morning sold out in around 3 hours. Other varieties of apples — such as King Lush, Arkansas Black, Stayman Winesap, and Red and Golden Delicious — are also for sale, and Darr said the stand will likely sell all of the 250 bushels of the fruit brought in Friday morning by the end of the festival.
The Apple Festival also gives attendees the chance to try a unique spin on the fruit for which it is named. Amanda Hope, owner of the Chuckey-based Grann’s Gourmet Apple & Confections, has sold at the Apple Festival for six of the eight years her business has been in operation.
Aside from the standard caramel apples, Hope also sells gourmet caramel apples drenched with white and dark chocolate and covered with colorful candy pieces. She, like many other vendors, said the Apple Festival is a great way to advertise a business and product. And, like other vendors, she plans on securing her spot for next year’s Unicoi County Apple Festival.
“I wouldn’t miss the Apple Festival,” Hope said.