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Holly Arts and Crafts Festival on Oct. 19, 2019 in the Village of Pinehurst. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

Organizers of the annual Holly Arts and Crafts Festival intend for the seasonal staple to take over Pinehurst’s village center as usual on the third Saturday of October, but it won’t be quite as robust as it has been in recent years.

The community arts and crafts event, organized by Pinehurst Business Partners, has been running for 42 years and typically brings about 4,000 people to the village to shop among 200 vendor booths.

This year’s event is planned for Oct. 17 and is set to run at about half strength.

Katrin Franklin, president of Pinehurst Business Partners and owner of Bump and Baby Boutique, told the Village Council last week that 100 vendors were accepted for what’s being reimagined as “Holly Arts Marketplace.”

“I think we have to be very careful about what our mission statement with this is,” said Franklin. “Many of our brick-and-mortar businesses lost all revenue for 40 days and our restaurants are still at half-mast. So I think having this event in some way is necessary for the community.”

Holly Arts operates on a special event permit from Pinehurst’s Parks and Recreation department, but ultimately Moore County health officials will have the final say in whether the event goes off this year.

Everything auxiliary to the core of the shopping experience –– food trucks, and the kids’ play and crafting area –– has been eliminated from plans for this year’s Holly Arts Marketplace. That will make more room for distanced vendor booths and help prevent large groups from congregating.

“I think they've done a good job of trying to separate out booths as best they can to try to limit how many people we would have gathered,” said Mark Wagner, Pinehurst’s Parks and Recreation director. “I think that’s where our biggest challenge is going to be with this, if we get approval from the health department to say yes, we can move forward with something like this.”

The event typically boosts business for shops in Pinehurst’s village center regardless of whether or not they actively participate in the festival. That’s what Holly Arts organizers hope to preserve this year.

“I want this to be about shopping, I want this to be about supporting the village, and I want this to be about supporting the restaurants even if they wait an hour for a burger,” said Franklin. “That’s what I want this to be about. We’ve missed an entire year of business.”

Vendors will bear some of the burden of the additional healthcare precautions, like posting ‘Wear, Wait, and Wash’ signs and providing hand sanitizing stations.

Council members were generally supportive of Holly Arts being held in some form this year. Councilmembers suggested measures like requiring reservations, assigning specific timeframes for attendance, and limiting the number of people at each booth.

“I say something should occur. It might be small. Instead of either big or go home, I’d rather not think of the latter if that’s possible,” said Councilmember Kevin Drum, who owns the Drum & Quill pub in downtown Pinehurst. “Let’s just pare it down until we can do it.”

Franklin said that if the event does go on, restrictions in place won’t impede shoppers who need an extra hour to get through all the names on their holiday lists.

“It’s really our intent to give Pinehurst the boost that it lost for 40 days,” she said. “Shopping is still very important to me and I want people to feel comfortable to take a long time shopping.”

Taking cues from other outdoor events held during the pandemic, organizers are planning potential crowd management strategies and basing target attendance figures on the state’s guidance for outdoor sporting events. Vendor booths will be staged in their usual pattern, but with every other space left empty to allow for 10 feet of distance between tents.

State health department guidelines limit outdoor events to 12 people for every 1,000 feet of space used or no more than 50 people at a time. Given that Pinehurst accommodates more than 50 shoppers on a quiet Saturday, organizers are trying to work with the former guideline.

“Surely (Governor) Cooper doesn’t mean 50 people in the entire village center, so we have to find a way to compartmentalize this and figure out how this works,” Franklin said.

“It’s the same as Mark’s concerns, it’s really finding a way to police the number of bodies in each section, and I think that is the million-dollar question.”

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