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Bigger isn’t always better

AHOSKIE – After appearing in a scaled-down version in 2017, there won’t be a Heritage Day in the town of Ahoskie in 2018, and the future of the event beyond then has yet to be determined.

However, one local businessman and civic leader would like to see it return, as in to its original format.

Citing budgetary concerns, a year ago town officials cut back on the Heritage Day Festival in an effort to save money, turning it into a one-day event instead of the traditional two days.

For what was the event’s 14th year, Heritage Day was limited to a single day which staff said would save the town around $15,000. The biggest savings came through canceling Friday night’s scheduled live band and Saturday evening’s fireworks show. Originally scheduled to operate on a $28,000 budget, those operating expenses were trimmed to about half that, or $13,000.

“We had some tough choices to make obviously for financial reasons, and Heritage Day was among those choices,” McDuffie said last summer.

“We know that Heritage Day is important to the town of Ahoskie,” he added at that time. “We plan to continue this annual event, perhaps looking at expanding it in the years to come and we appreciate our town citizens and the general public in understanding our financial situation.”

This was when the town, at that time, was in a reported $475,000 budget deficit.

Meanwhile, John Fritz, chairman of the Ahoskie Historic Preservation Committee, presented a proposal before the Ahoskie Town Council at their June meeting.

“Sometimes to get where you’re going you need to know where you came from,” Fritz stated as he began what he termed were a series of suggestions.

Fritz recalled to the members how the event first began as ‘Indian Summer Days’ held over the course of an October weekend in 1995 at the old Ahoskie High Gym with local artisans and craftsmen, food vendors, and games on the adjoining soccer field.

“And that place was packed,” he noted.

With the aid and ideas from then-Ahoskie mayor Linda Blackburn, the event morphed into Heritage Day eight years later, focused on and highly supported by local businesses in a cordoned-off area of Main Street. Coordinated activities included an art show, a ‘Battle of the Bands’ – providing music free of charge, events at the Gallery Theater, and more local food vendors.

“It (stretched) from the front of City Hall down to where the old Ford dealership was located,” Fritz said. “It was a great day, a one day event.”

A year later, the venue was moved to the Ahoskie Amphitheatre at what is now Ahoskie Creek Park. Rides and fireworks were added, and instead of smaller, more intimate, booths, the food vendors came with trucks. An Ahoskie Public Library fundraiser was added along with paid entertainment, and civic clubs providing a Rotary Ball Drop. Other events fell under the Heritage Day umbrella, including the Art Show at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Church Street and a motorcycle contest.

“It was never meant to have rides,” Fritz acknowledged. “It was never meant to be ‘carnival-like’. What it was intended to do was focus on downtown, to be focused on the business community and, more importantly, was intended to always be on Main Street.”

Fritz says in succeeding years more and more was added to Heritage Days until the extreme downsizing that came with 2017 when it was scaled back to a one day celebration; downsized because of available funding and management constraints.

“It got too big,” he declared, “and now it’s been cancelled altogether. It got away from the intent of being called Ahoskie Heritage Days.”

Fritz said he would volunteer to become a co-chairperson in partnership with the town’s leadership to establish a group of volunteer committees to develop event activities, and to help coordinate and manage the logistics of the event with necessary staff. He said preliminary talks had already taken place with the Chamber of Commerce and he’d had other conversations with local businesses and with entertainers.

“They all think it’s a great idea,” he remarked. “So, I’m volunteering to work with the town to pull all of this together for 2019. I’m looking for a commitment that says we can do this.”

Fritz also wants the event to return to the cooler temperatures of early October. He believes it can be proactively promoted through various marketing tools; that it can create visibility for small businesses in the region; and that Tourism Development Authority (TDA) funds could help support the effort.

“There’s plenty of money we collect from local (businesses) that we are not spending,” Fritz stated. “We have civic organizations that are coming forward and we do give them money; and it’s interesting that most of the money is not spent in the town of Ahoskie. TDA is where the money can come from.”

“You know the chronology,” he said. “The ideas are in place, you’ve got plenty of people in the town of Ahoskie, in Hertford County, who really have a sincere knowledge of wanting to do the right thing for downtown.”

Fritz closed his presentation with a call to make the event showcase the best Ahoskie has to offer.

“Heritage Days was created to be a business supported and business focused event,” he concluded. “It was intended to provide an opportunity for the Ahoskie community to put its best foot forward around its cultural, economic, and business community. In 2019 let’s put this event back where it belongs – in downtown Ahoskie. Being a business owner in this town I think we can get this going.”

Mayor Jimmie Rowe thanked Fritz for his interest, but made no commitment.

“We’ll take it into consideration,” the mayor said. “We’ll stay in touch with you, and we’ll see what we can do.”