By David Rogers. January 27, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — It happened in a moment’s time, as fast as a camera’s shutter at 1/5000th of a second. Beaming smiles frozen in time as obvious affection of friends bestowed (29th?) birthday greetings upon Blowing Rock’s Mandy Poplin. They huddled around a bonfire in front of Blowing Rock Market, ale and wine glasses clasped firmly in hand, ready laughs subdued only by the warm glow of an early evening’s setting sun.
COVER IMAGE: Birthday celebrant Mandy Poplin (5th from the left), pauses for a moment with her friends. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
But the moment caught more than a celebration of that time (29?) years ago when Ms. Poplin came into the world. It caught the essence of Winterfest. It was romantic Blowing Rock.
A Polar Plunge, a Chili Cookoff, a Wine Auction. Ice sculptures, silent auctions, winter-themed art classes at BrrrrAHM. A fashion show and a dog show. Winterfeast at Chetola and hot chocolate in Memorial Park. Sippin’ and strollin’ along Main Street. Shopping until you almost literally drop. A flapjack breakfast at Sunny Rock.
And so much more.
On Main Street Saturday evening, Blowing Rock News conducted a random survey to ask business owners about how their enterprises were faring with all of the people in town for the Chamber of Commerce-hosted Winterfest 2019. At the same time, we randomly asked some of the out-of-towners what they thought of the event.
Of the visitors, we didn’t ask names so we’ll use manufactured nom de plumes.
“Ben” lives now in a suburb of Greensboro, but he is an App State alum, a small business owner, and has a lingering affection for all things High Country. While in school, he spent his summers working at Tweetsie Railroad.
“I have been coming to Winterfest since it started, 20 years ago,” Ben recalled. “It has grown every year and every year seems a freshly different experience. Some years it has been extremely cold, with temperatures well below freezing. I remember one of the first times I went to Polar Plunge, the fire and rescue guys were sitting on a foot-thick sheet of ice. It had to be a foot thick because each of those guys were at least 200 pounds. I kept waiting for the ice to break under their weight, but it never did. Other times, it has been pretty warm and sunny, almost like spring. Whatever the weather, Winterfest has been fun and I have loved sharing it with my friends through the years.”
Life is cumulative. We learn from every experience and each experience enriches not just our present, but our future, too
Standing in front of the steps to Memorial Park, “Jennifer” is also an App State graduate and a nursing professional in Charlotte.
With a shopping bag from Serves Your Right under one arm and more from Spice & Tea Exchange and Monkees tucked under the other elbow, she told Blowing Rock News with a broad smile, “This is my first time coming to Winterfest but it won’t be my last. Ironically, I have to credit Blowing Rock News for my first finding out about this event. I was searching on the Web for something different for our family to do this weekend, at least within a couple of hours’ driving time, and found an advertisement that you were running for the Chamber of Commerce about Winterfest. I clicked on the banner and ‘wha-la!’, here was this whole website devoted to the event. I saw the variety of events, that it was Chamber of Commerce-sponsored and that most if not all of the event proceeds benefited various charitable causes. We love special events that benefit charity, so I just told my husband that we were going. He didn’t have a vote! — but I can tell you that he is enjoying the weekend, too.”
Adding the “K9 Keg Pull” to his favorite Winterfest events this year was “Sam.” He and his family came all the way from Arkansas. He didn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak, but he shared, “My kids haven’t seen anything like it so they got a big kick out of the keg pull. My son, who is 7, told me, ‘Dad, I think those dogs run so fast because the kegs clanging around behind them is scary! They are trying to get away!’
This is our busiest January weekend, ever. It rivals a Saturday in October.
“A lot of parenting,” Sam added, “is providing many different out-of-home experiences for our kids. Not just at school, but family vacations, weekend excursions, cultural gatherings. Each one gives them a new perspective on how things work and often inspires their creative soul. Plus, they get to meet different kinds of people. Life is cumulative. We learn with every experience and each experience enriches not just our present, but our future, too.”
Wrapped in winter attire bearing App State logos, “Melissa” said she would eventually get to the Wine Auction at the Green Park Inn. For the moment, she had a couple of youngsters in tow who were fascinated by the people carving out creatures from big blocks of ice. Her daughter pulled her to the front of the Rotary Gazebo in Memorial Park so she could “pet” the “bear cub” fashioned from ice.
“I have met so many interesting people on this trip,” Melissa observed. “I know there are evil, Godless people out there, so there are always risks, but there are so many more that have such good hearts and souls. I don’t understand why so many people fear meeting strangers. When I come to an event like this that attracts people from all walks of life, I like to ask each one where they are from and what they do. I have even exchanged contact information with new friends.”
Taking Care Of Business
Dave Barker, owner of the Blowing Rock Market, sat at a table inside his store early Saturday evening with App State friends and assessed the impact on his business.
“Without question,” he reported, “this is the best Winterfest we have had. Whether it is the economy or the expanded slate of activities and events, many more people are walking up and down Main Street and going through shops.”
On the other end of Main Street at SouthMarke’s Serves You Right, owner Karyn Herterich agreed (between conversations with customers browsing through her store), “This is the busiest we have been in the 20 years of Winterfest. People have been in and out of our store all day long like never before. A couple dropped in to compliment our ice sculpture outside, while others have discovered creative gifts for a friend or family member. I haven’t heard yet what other business owners are saying, but this has been a good weekend for us.”
In the middle of Main Street, Andy and Gayle Barth of the Spice & Tea Exchange were not bashful in declaring, “In the five years we have been here, this is the best Saturday we have ever had in January and it rivals what we do on a Saturday in October.”
After two decades, the promise of Winterfest may be reaching full throttle. Business is good, but the human interactions — and fun — in the dead of winter will keep people coming back, year after year. Mandy Poplin turned 29-ish this weekend — and it was just another one of those happy times during Winterfest.