HOULTON, Maine — Mary Collins maintained Friday that she always tells her friends about the Fourth of July festivities in Houlton.
“I try to come back every year,” the 64-year-old Miami, Fla., resident said between shopping stops downtown on Friday afternoon. “I have extended family and several friends in this area and across the border, and I love how festive it seems around here over Independence Day. I have been here to the parade and the fair several times, and I love it. I just love it.”
Collins and others were out in force during the day as the town bustled with activity in preparation for its annual July Fourth activities.
The population of the town swells over the holiday each year as town groups and organizations hold fairs, shopping bonanzas and class reunions.
Although the persistent clouds and rain showers discouraged some, others said they were determined to attend as many outdoor events as possible.
The annual parade begins at 10 a.m. today, when registrants will snake through town on floats, in ATVs and antique automobiles and on foot.
Mariah Stone, 11, of Portland said she was in town visiting relatives for the first time and was excited to see the parade.
This year’s Agricultural Fair kicked off in Community Park on Thursday. Today, it features events such as a draft horse show, cooking contests, exhibits, children’s events and a midway.
A fireworks display is set to begin at 9:25 p.m.
On Friday afternoon, shopkeepers in Market Square were already setting up for Midnight Madness to be held later in the evening. The late night shopping fest offers bargain hunters lower prices as the clock nears midnight. On Friday morning, some businesses already had placed merchandise out under covered tents for sidewalk sales.
Collins said she had already taken advantage of early bargains and heard about a new restaurant that she hoped to try during her stay.
The weather, however, did affect some activities.
Friday was the first day of the newly established Houlton Community Market, where local vendors were invited to sell vegetables, baked goods and crafts. The dreary weather enticed only a few to set up shop.
The market will continue through the end of October and will be held 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday in Monument Park.
The park also was to be the location of the Houlton Arts and Craft Fair, an event scheduled several times a year. Raindrops forced vendors into the Gentle Memorial Building.
A modest crowd took in the fair Friday afternoon, scoring handmade pillows and clothes, homemade jams and desserts, jewelry and wood crafts.
Cindy Eddleman, who operates Cindy’s Creations in Mars Hill, said Friday afternoon that she was satisfied with the money she had earned so far but that attendance was lower than in years past.
“I think we would have seen more shoppers if we could have had it in the park,” she said.
Eddleman offers handmade items such as dolls, towels and other gifts and said that if the sun had shined on the park, she could have displayed more of her inventory.
“There is not enough room inside,” she said.
Carol Hand, who operates Handcraft, also said business had been slow at the booth where she sold doll clothes, clothing and other unique wares.
“We probably would have seen more business outside because the people walking and driving by the park tend to stop,” she said Friday.
But, she said, there was a reason to look on the bright side.
“Every year, the wind blows my rack over,” said Hand, nodding toward a rack of intricately crafted doll clothes. “That is not going to happen this time.”