BANGOR, Maine — A cloudless sky, hot weather and a joyful crowd meant good business for vendors selling art, crafts and food at the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront this weekend.
All vendors whistled the same tune: You couldn’t ask for better weather or a better venue. But their prosperity wasn’t a sure thing.
Early Saturday afternoon, Charles Maclin, owner of Pastor Chuck Orchards in Portland, noticed that sales were down compared with last year when Hurricane Bob brought heavy rains to the waterfront on the second day of the festival.
“In no way am I putting the festival down,” said Maclin. “This year is good, and it could get better, but it isn’t as good as last year, even with the rain.”
But Sunday, Maclin’s smile broadened as he said, “We took off yesterday, and we did better than last year. We were very pleased. People were still buying as we closed up.”
“Supposedly the crowds are down, but we had a very prosperous three days,” said Mary Joan Mondello of Maine Coast Herbals in Corinth. “People get to know you and your product, and you develop a following.”
Mondello has held a booth at the annual folk festival since its inception in 2002. She makes anything from earache remedy to calendula facial cream created from her home-grown flowers and herbs.
The days became progressively warmer over the weekend. On Sunday, temperatures reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but veteran folk festival artisans reported that the crowds were of average size, and the ice cream and smoothie vendors were benefiting from the relentless sun.
“We’re well on our way to record sales this festival,” Tish Pendergast of Wild Blueberry Smoothies of Bangor said Sunday morning. She was confident that they would sell the 15,000 smoothies needed to make a personal folk festival record.
Charlie Ouillete of Fields of Dream Soap is a second-generation soap maker from Scarborough and usually sells his product at 25 to 30 shows and fairs per year. He has customers who come to his folk festival booth each year to restock on his product.
The artisans aren’t the only vendors who develop a group of repeat customers.
Hammerhead Seafood of Florida and Rhode Island comes to Maine each festival to serve Cajun cuisine — crawfish etoufee and alligator meat. Two years ago, they broke down south of Boston and couldn’t make it to the festival.
“People were upset,” said owner David French. “We have a following here. People come up to us and say, ‘We came here to see you last year.’”
Several vendors commented on the exceptional organization of the festival and the helpful volunteers who traveled throughout the arts tents to assist the vendors.
“It’s a show that’s a pleasure to do,” said Ouillette. “It’s not complicated. It runs smooth. They do a great job.”
For Marlene Reali, owner of Affinity 2 of Scarborough, it’s her second time selling her hand-painted Japanese rice paper and metal jewelry at the festival.
“People seemed more in tune to the arts up here,” said Terry Huntington, artisan of Affinity 2 and Reali’s husband. “They seem educated about how art is made. That helps sales because they know the value of hard work.”
Artisans often think of the crowd composition when they decide which wares to display in their booths.
“I wanted to make something many people could afford,” said Lisa Bess, owner of Adornments by Lisa of Portland. “I wanted a schoolteacher to be able to walk out of my booth with a $15 pair of earrings or necklace that carries the spirit and enthusiasm of this time of year. People have to carry this feeling with them in these tough times.”
Looking back at previous festivals, Lynn Peterson, co-owner of Peterson Woodworking of Harrison, remembers having more profitable years. The business sold more wooden kitchenware in 2002 and 2003 before the economy took a turn for the worse. But some vendors saw top sales this weekend despite the poor economy.
Wendy Newmeyer, owner of Maine Balsam Fir Products of West Paris, has participated in more than 700 shows since the business was founded 27 years ago.
“These shows are very valuable,” said Newmeyer. “Like keeping a thumb on your pulse, seeing what people are buying and why. It’s market research for me.”
This year was Newmeyer’s second time at the festival, but she has noticed that her balsam-filled pillows are perfect mementos for folk festival musicians and visitors from away. They can carry the smell of the Pine Tree State home with them.
“It was really great,” said Newmeyer. “It was like the old days, and I do believe Saturday was one of our best days in the past five years of any of the venues we’ve been at. I just think people are being conscious of where they purchase things. It’s companies like ours that people are choosing to support.”