MACHIAS — Saturday dawned hot — very hot — with plenty of sun for hundreds of visitors to the 34th annual Machias Wild Blueberry Festival.
Crowds appeared to be smaller than in previous years, as did the number of vendors, but sellers were selling, buyers were buying, and it appeared that most were having a great time.
The festival is a huge boost to the local economy. Motels fill up, restaurants work double time and local store and gas station sales spike.
The festival has been under way all week and continued Sunday. There were pie-eating contests, parades, a carnival, an annual play, musical performances and, on Saturday night, the fourth annual Black Fly Ball at the Grange Hall.
“I love this,” Rita Finch of New Jersey said as she rested in the shade of a small tree, enjoying a cold lemonade — 35 cents a cup.
Finch and her family stopped by the festival on their way to Campobello for a family vacation. “I am so impressed by the quality of the artisans Down East,” she said. “The artists, the jewelry makers, the photographers — it is just incredible.”
Finch was carrying a tote bag full of presents — for her own family and to bring back to New Jersey.
Finch’s buying mood was reflected up and down the aisles of the craft vendors. They were selling soap, sea salt, signs, wooden carvings, wooden chairs and walking sticks. Color and art were everywhere.
David and Jo-Ann Caron of Calais were offering photographs and handmade frames. “They are buying,” David Caron said, when asked whether most people were just looking.
“This year we brought more lower-end stuff,” Jo-Ann Caron said. “We are trying to keep everything under $35, taking the economy into consideration.” She said it was a strategy that was paying off.
Susan Stegenga of the Sugah Shack in Seboeis Plantation said it was the company’s first time exhibiting at the festival.
“This is a really good time,” she said. “People are definitely spending money.”
Another first-timer was Carla Manchester of Hen House Creations of Whiting. “We are a bunch of friends who get together every Sunday to craft,” she said. “Everything is selling today,” she said, “from the handmade wooden signs to a $70 ring.”
Deborah Aldridge of Hatch Knoll organic farm in Jonesboro was swamped. “Look at this,” she said, referring to the crowd at her booth. “I’m going to run out of blueberries.”
Long lines snaked around the snow cone vendors and the ice-cold lemonade stands.
Many of the visitors were tourists — a rare sight Down East earlier this summer when constant rain dampened profits for local and seasonal businesses.
The parking area was full of cars with out-of-state license plates: Indiana, Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York.
“I think when people come to something like this they want to experience Maine and the products that reflect Maine,” Karen Johnson of Roque Bluffs said. Johnson sells handmade sea glass jewelry and the earrings were flying off her shelves. “We’re going crazy,” she said. “What says Maine better than sea glass?”
It might be smoked salmon. John Constant at Maine-ly Smoked Salmon of Perry said that last year at the festival was his biggest sales year in 15 years.
“We’re so blessed,” he said. “This year is looking to beat that.”
Sunday events included a community breakfast under the tent at the Centre Street Congregational Church, a community worship service and ringing of the Paul Revere Bell at the Centre Street church, crafters and entertainment all day, a blueberry museum at Whole Foods Market, the Kids’ Zone next to the church and an art ex-hibit inside, blueberry farm tours and a quilt raffle drawing. The What Cheer? Brigade Band gave a concert in the church.