Freedom Fest is biggest bang yet
The weather was hot. Crowds were big. Business was good. Accidents were few. The fireworks were booming, and overall, Swain County’s 4th of July weekend was a success.
Swain County Chamber of Commerce reports its annual Freedom Fest, held in downtown Bryson City on the holiday, was the largest and most successful yet. There were more vendors, increased attendance and a bigger fireworks show. The chamber estimated about 9,000 people attended this year’s festival.
A few changes were made compared to previous years, including a new layout for food and vendors and moving the concert stage, all of which seemed to work out well. Chamber Executive Director Karen Proctor Wilmot said the changes were made to address safety issues like reducing the number of people on the bridge during the concerts. Picnic tables near the vendors were also added this year. Plus, as in recent years, B&B Disposal were there during the festival cleaning up— a big job with so many people downtown.
“All in all, the 2019 Freedom Fest was a great success for the Chamber, downtown businesses, and the community,” she said. "This event is always a challenge for our limited number of staff, especially given its size, but the staff and volunteers really pulled it off seamlessly this year, as always. We’re already in the process of planning for next year!"
Downtown businesses, for the most part, reported the holiday weekend was a smash for them as well.
Ivan Gibby, owner of Calby’s Antiques, said the holiday was “the best one it’s been in a long time.”
“I had a better ratio of sales to people than I can remember in a long time,” Gibby said, adding that more people visited the store and took time to look around and purchase items. His biggest day was Saturday following the holiday.
The weekend was good news for Appalachian Mercantile as well.
“It was a great festival. I think one of the reasons was they moved the center of the show down here and they put the center of the show in the center of town,” said Lance Holland of the stage’s move to the parking lot at Iron Skillet.
“I never thought as far as business goes we’d take in more money than we did during the Total Solar Eclipse, when everyone who came wanted to take something home that said Bryson City on it. This July the 4th, we eclipsed the eclipse.”
At Mountain Perks Espresso Bar & Cafe, the counter was fully staffed for the holiday, and at times the line weaved through the restaurant, but everybody that came in was happy and got service quickly, said Pam Pulley, owner.
“It was surprisingly good,” said Lindsey Imhoff, manager at Mountain Perks. “People were a lot nicer this year, and they seemed to be happy to be here.”
At Boxcar Café & Cones, Tina Jones, co-owner, said the weather was good to them and business was up.
On Everett Street, ice cream and chocolate was proving popular throughout the weekend at The Chocolate Shoppe.
“We were outstanding. It was the best 4th of July weekend we’ve ever had,” said owner Tom Turek.
Ben King, part owner of Bryson City Outdoors said the weather was great and there were lots of people around all day.
“I think it’s a great downtown event for Bryson City and Swain County,” he said of Freedom Fest. He added that things went well for business throughout the weekend at the Finger Lakes as well, where the business rents out stand up paddleboards.
Among the many reasons people choose to spend holidays in Bryson City and Swain County is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
Sarah Conley Pressley, marketing manager, said the railroad had record numbers for the holiday.
“I believe the steam locomotive in combination with the Bryson City Freedom Fest and the holiday helped push the sales,” she said by email. “We ran both the Nantahala Gorge and Tuckasegee River excursion with #1702 doing a double pulling the Freedom Train as well. All of our trains were sold out by the end of the day, which resulted in over 1,400 passengers riding with us. Just an incredible day!”
Conley Pressley said the success of the holiday weekend is on trend with greater business this summer.
“Our summer numbers are up, and we are trending ahead but are prepared for a little lull as we enter the ‘dog days’ of the season,” she said. “Of course, you can never predict the weather, but with the great outdoor activities combined with relaxing water recreation our area provides, we are confident July is going to turn out to be another record month for us in 2019.”