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With festival called off, apple promotions will be reshaped

Too close for covid: The Apple Festival board decided to call off the event and promote apple growers in other ways. Too close for covid: The Apple Festival board decided to call off the event and promote apple growers in other ways.

The N.C. Apple Festival, another entertainment victim of the coronavirus, won’t take place downtown but instead will involve a variety of promotions to boost the apple industry.


“Due to our street layout we are not able to control the number of attendees, which would allow for social distancing,” Festival Director David Nicholson said in a news release. “This decision was made after speaking with local leaders in government and in the health field. We believe that in the best interest of the future of the festival, the apple industry and our community not to hold these events.”

What Labor Day weekend looks like now is in the Hendersonville City Council’s court more than the Apple Festival board’s. Although Main Street won’t be closed for the Apple Festival, “that doesn’t prevent the City Council from having one of their Open Streets weekends,” City Manager John Connet said. “That’ll be a discussion of what do we do Labor Day weekend.”

Among the ideas are holding large sidewalk sales like the ones the Apple Festival featured decades ago, promoting roadside apple stands and U-pick orchards around the county and inviting growers to set up at the city’s new Saturday morning farmers market at the railroad depot on Maple Street.

The Apple Festival’s core mission of promoting the apple industry and pushing the sale of fresh apples will go on.

“We are now reaching out to the nonprofits and downtown merchants to see what their plans for their events are and we’ll be advertising the apple growers,” Nicholson said. “We’re still hoping people will come (to Henderson County) and buy apples.”

Mike Stepp, owner of the Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard and the reigning Apple Farmer of the Year, said the family is adapting to the coronavirus climate as the selling season nears.

“First of all, let me say we fully support the committee and all the work they’ve done,” he said. “We kind of feel like they didn’t have a choice and it’s the wisest thing they could’ve done.”

Stepp and his family operate a busy farm with an on-site bakery, U-pick orchard and the sale of apples, pumpkins, jams and other products. Family members are preparing now for changes in order to carry on their retail business under public health guidelines.

“We plan to be open,” he said. “We’re blessed to have 100 acres we can work with and we’ve got a lot of open space. We know we’ve got to tweak some things. We’re going to do everything just like a normal year.”

Occupying a prime location near the Historic Courthouse, the Hillcrest Orchard apple stand records a robust four days of sales of apples and pastries during the Apple Festival. Stepp’s daughter, Danielle, leads the team of family farmhands that sells at the festival.

“She takes care of all that,” Stepp said. “That is a very big part of our farm revenue but again it’s just something you’ve got to work with. We trust the Lord to take care of us and do what we need to do. It may be a little bit of a tweaking and a challenge, but we’ll get through.”

As for the crop, Stepp said his orchard in Edneyville had survived frosts in April and May and dodged damage from a hailstorm on May 31.

“I was very thankful and sort of amazed in one way that I didn’t see any more damage than we did,” he said. For two nights in May, lows reached 28 in the orchard but Stepp said it didn’t stay cold for too long. Still, he expects to see frost ring, scarring or splitting in some apples hurt by the cold snap.

The decision to call off the traditional festival, Nicholson said, came after months of discussion of alternative ways to hold the festival, which packs tens of thousands of people onto Main Street for four days of music, food, vendors, kiddie rides and other attractions and culminates with the King Apple Parade on Labor Day.

“We came up with a plan B but at the end of the day we can’t control the crowd,” Nicholson said. “There are 19 ways to enter this festival, so you can’t control it. If it were a ticketed event we could control the crowd.”

The history of the North Carolina Apple Festival goes back many years prior to the Street Fair, he added, and some of those early features may happen this year.

“We are proud to have a great relationship with our local apple industry,” he said. “We still plan on encouraging persons to support our apple growers. We will be using our website, social media and advertisements throughout our area to encourage the purchase of North Carolina apples this fall.”