Baldwin City downtown businesses look forward to festival crowds
Stan Vickers is impressed with the foresight of the four Baker University professors who founded the Maple Leaf Festival in 1957.
“Those guys had an idea, and that continues to have a positive impact for retailers in the community,” said Vickers, co-owner of Antiques on the Prairie, 520 High St.
The festival has probably grown far beyond the expectations of Ivan Boyd, Charles Doudna, C.R. Whitley and Bill Horn when they worked to found a festival that would introduce visitors to the fall beauty of Baldwin City with the hopes of helping local civic organizations and businesses.
The festival’s biggest attraction is the more than 400 arts and crafts vendors who annually set up booths along Baldwin City streets and in a few downtown buildings. The 30,000-plus visitors who flock to the festival more than offsets the added competition from the booths for downtown business.
“It’s the best weekend of the year,” said Rita McCall, co-owner of Days of Old Antiques. “It’s a busy weekend, but I love it. We really packed them in last year.”
The store will have a sale during the festival, McCall said. Like many downtown businesses, it will have a presence on the sidewalk in front of the storefront, she said.
Baldwin City government cedes control of downtown sidewalks and streets to the Maple Leaf Festival Committee for festival weekend. Maple Leaf Festival Committee booth committee chair Donna Curran said business owners were allowed to vend on sidewalks in front of their stores as long as they sell goods normally offered in their stores and maintained the festival’s booth hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. An additional benefit to businesses is that their outdoor activities are covered by the festival’s insurance.
Vickers' business has a little more room to work with because of the large parking lot in front of the former grocery store. A barbecue vendor and historic re-enactor craftsmen will set up in the lot, Herd said.
That helps entice festival attendees into the store, Vickers said. Although he and the store’s consignment vendors benefit from festival business, he has noted through the years that customers introduced to the store during the festival often return in the months following, he said.
From more than a decade of experience, Mike Langrehr knows what to expect. He owns the Town Galleria, which at 715 Eighth St. is four storefronts north of the festival’s epicenter of Eighth and High streets. Like other downtown business owners, he will recruit friends and family to help with the festival rush at a store that is a coffee and sandwich cafe, antique shop and jewelry store.
The coffee and snacks he offers inside the store and on the sidewalk out front always do very well, Langehr said. That hasn’t translated, however, into sales or orders of the handmade, custom jewelry he makes.
“My problem is getting them inside to see what else we do,” he said. “I’m going to try a couple of new things this year.”
His next door neighbor doesn’t have that problem. Quilter’s Paradise owner Sharon Vesecky said those attending the Maple Leaf Quilt Guide show at the Baldwin Elementary School often make it a point to visit her store, although those numbers slipped a little when the quilt show moved from the South Gym on Eighth Street to the BESIC.
Her grandchildren will be out front offering a number of items, including wooden pins made from a lathe, dog handkerchief bibs and bags of nuts.
Despite the presence of 26 food vendors, festival weekend is very good to the El Patron Restaurant, 711 Eighth St., said Jordan Davis, one of the restaurant’s managers. The restaurant will have a taco bar and offer ice cream on the sidewalk, he said.
“I’ve already started stocking for everything,” he said. “It’s one of those weekends you don’t get any breaks.”