LURAY — For everything there is a season.
From the return of summer’s sun in June to the start of fall foliage in September, the town of Luray is moving ahead with plans to spotlight the seasons during two new festivals — but leave spring for locals and visitors to enjoy on their own.
Following a presentation by Luray Parks and Recreation Superintendent Dakota Baker and Luray Downtown Initiative Director Meredith Dees, the Luray Town Council last week by consensus approved plans to scrap the 15-year-old Festival of Spring.
“Essentially we wouldn’t be getting rid of the festival; we would just be evolving it into two separate events,” Baker told council members last week.
Replacement events include a new “Downtown Get Down” music and food festival in mid-June. Presented through a partnership between the town and LDI, the new festival is set to include four concert locations, including Ruffner Plaza, the PAL Center and the lot behind the Warehouse Art Gallery.
Food trucks and picnic and dining areas are additionally planned along Main Street. The area will likely see a similar layout traditionally set up during the Festival of Spring, when East and West Main streets close from the stop light to the railroad tracks.
In fall of 2020 the town then hopes to join forces with other local organizations during a second installment of the Sunflower Festival. Featuring sunflower picking, children’s activities and entertainment, an inaugural event is on tap for next month at the Ralph H. Dean Recreation Park. Downtown businesses will be promoted throughout the Sept. 14 event, when local shops and eateries offer discounts and venues like the Warehouse Art Gallery and the PAL Center offer all-day entertainment.
The shift, said Dees and Baker, allows the town to capitalize on a prime time for festivals and put to rest a spring event that over the past decade-and-a-half has run its course. At its height, the May event drew thousands of visitors and upward of 150 or more vendors.
Following last May’s installment, said Baker, vendors, shop owners and visitors alike complained that the downtown area “felt empty.”
In 2017, for example, the Festival of Spring welcomed 131 vendors — “and no one got turned down,” said Baker. That number dropped in 2018 to 80 vendors, with 16 turned away partly due to space constraints when the festival saw a new layout due to the construction of the West Main Street Bridge.
Based on event surveys, participating vendors have frequently complained over the past several years about down sales due not only to a down turnout but because eventgoers tend to spend more money on food and less on handmade items.
During this year’s installment, 75 vendors applied for space at the Festival of Spring — a 43% decrease compared to 131 applicants just two years ago.
And while 51 of the 75 vendors were accepted to participate last May, 15 dropped out the day of the event due to weather and others left early. In fact, continued Baker, four of the past five spring festivals have contended with heavy rain.
Held each Saturday during Mother’s Day weekend, the Festival of Spring additionally contends with local proms and the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester.
“What people are spending their money on is food, so it makes sense to … make that more of our focus [in June],” Dees told the council.
Baker added that including vendors at the September festival would likely see better results, when eventgoers are more likely to make purchases for the upcoming holiday season.
“I think the Festival of Spring has run its course, and I think trying something new could be a good idea,” said Luray Mayor Barry Presgraves.
The council did not take an official vote, but approved plans to proceed with the two festivals.
The inaugural Sunflower Festival is slated for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sept. 14, at the Ralph Dean Recreation Park. Sponsored by the Page Alliance for Community Action, LDI, the Town of Luray and the Page Valley Arts Council, the day will include music, a petting zoo, pony rides, vendors and food from concessions.
A 1K fun run around the fitness trail at the park, beginning at 10:30 a.m., is also planned.