Strawberry theme continues to bear fruit for Fort Mill

Berry concept keeps bearing fruit

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comJanuary 28, 2013 

— South Carolina Strawberry Festival organizers so liked the sweet taste of victory, they went back for another helping.

For the second straight year, the Fort Mill event was named South Carolina’s Event of the Year. It also won the Best Non-Print Media award for the TV ad campaign leading up the town’s official spring festival.

The awards were announced at the Jan. 21 South Carolina Festival and Event Planners Conference and Trade Show in North Charleston.

Since it was launched in 2010, the S.C. Strawberry Festival has grown with each new addition. Last year, it began the first Tuesday in May with a strawberry picking event followed by an outdoor movie. Other events, including the annual Strawberry Queen Pageant, led up to the main element – a full Saturday of music, food, vendors and exhibits capped by a fireworks show.

In 2012, attendance exceeded 48,000 guests on Friday and Saturday night – up 21 percent from the previous year – and sponsorship dollars rose 71 percent. Last year’s event chair, David Ward, said arts and crafts revenue was up by 28 percent. Participants in the recipe contest grew from just a handful in 2011 to 71 the following year.

“It’s always good to get recognition like that,” said David Hudspeth, Fort Mill’s retiring town manager, whose last day on the job is this week.

“All the credit goes to the committee and the people who volunteered and worked hard to put that on. It’s a real team effort to pull all that stuff together.”

Hudspeth said the festival, created after the traditional, long-running three-day Fest-i-Fun was phased out, was not intended to grow as large as it’s become.

“We just wanted the opportunity to do something different and create some excitement but this thing, based on that little piece of fruit grew into something that took on a life of its own,” he said.

Fest-i-Fun, was considered the town’s official spring festival even though it was run by a private committee. After a fire cut the last one short in 2007, the town held no spring festival in 2008. In 2009, it introduced Spring Fling, but scrapped that one-day affair after the Strawberry-themed festival was conceived and officials verified no other S.C. town produced one.

A second consecutive top state award for the S.C. Strawberry Festival came as no surprise to Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk, who said he gives all the credit to “the quality of the people we have chairing that event and driving the volunteerism that makes it such a success. It’s the top event in the state and rightly so.”

Joe Cronin, assistant town manager and 2012 Marketing Team Leader, also praised the planning committee and said, “It’s an honor for the Strawberry Festival to be recognized by our peers and industry experts as South Carolina’s Event of the Year for the second consecutive year. We have set a high standard for our event, and we look forward to building on this success in 2013 and beyond.”

Ward, who is also chairman of the Fort Mill Economic Council, said the recognition is important because it can create interest in tourism and commercial development.

“It doesn’t take much to brag on Fort Mill and this Strawberry festival gives us [another] chance to shine,” he said.

“You know you arrived when you’re wearing a Strawberry Festival T-shirt or pin and someone from an entirely different state sees it and says, ‘Hey! – I was there!’”

For more information about the festival, go to scstrawberryfestival.com.

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