Closer Look

Day-long PumpkinFest requires year-round planning

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Catherine Haithcock

For the past 26 years on the third Saturday in October, something magical happens to the streets of downtown Franklin. Beginning at 9 a.m., the streets usually lined with cars are rowed with the canopies of vendors as aromas emanating from every food truck and downtown business waft their way through the crowd. This is PumpkinFest, and it takes a lot more than a fairy godmother to turn this plain yellow pumpkin into the golden festival it has become.

Planning for the festival begins promptly following the previous year’s event.

“We just do a debrief to start with after it’s over to see if there were any issues that popped up, and from there we just start planning,” said Franklin Town Manager Amie Owens. Planning involves entertainment, decorations, activities, vendor layout, exposure for nonprofits, and public safety. PumpkinFest has a budget of $24,150, with only $12,500 coming directly from the Town of Franklin. The remaining funds are reliant on co-sponsors, vendors, and nonprofits.

“It is expected to be slightly larger this year than it was last year,” said Owens. “This is the bounce-back, essentially, from Covid. Last year we limited the size because there were still some Covid concerns. It’s still not quite as big as it has been in the past, but we are building it back up.”

In response to things going back to normal and an eagerness to meet public demands, the Town of Franklin has extended street closures for vendor space to include Stewart Street, which is a PumpkinFest first. With 102 vendor spots allocated, nonprofits make up one-third of the available vending space for a $25 fee.

“It’s probably our hardest event, but it is our biggest and most rewarding because you get to see our nonprofits do things for kids, and we get to help those nonprofits raise money and get their names out,” said Sabrina Scruggs, Town of Franklin’s tax collector and event coordinator.

Larger fees are required of craft and food vendors who must also undergo an application process that is reviewed by Owens, Scruggs, and town event consultant Tony Angel, of Tony Angel Media, to prevent oversaturation of specific craft markets. Craft vendors must also meet a specific criterion in order for them to be accepted.

“Basically, we open [the application process] in March and we don’t make any first decisions until July, since that is the start of our new budget year,”said Scruggs. “When we sit down and talk about it. [Vendor’s wares] have to actually be an art. It has to be something that you are making, not just something that you are buying and reselling.”

Deciding the entertainment and activities are just as challenging, with the process beginning during the first debrief after each PumpkinFest.

“We start early in the year to think about budget,” Scruggs said. “Once budget is set, we call around. We start by looking at what’s big or if anything has a big anniversary [coming up].”

In years past, PumpkinFest headliners have included Batman and the famous DeLorean from the movie “Back to the Future.” This year will be a bit different. While the bat signal and the time machine rest safely in an undisclosed location, this PumpkinFest will feature Franklin’s homegrown heroes and stars – a conscious decision consistent with that of the Fourth of July entertainment.

“We have a lot of local talent, so this year, for example, we are going to have the dance crew from Cowee School perform before the costume contest,” shared Scruggs.

Residents and visitors alike are invited to don their most creative costume and participate in a parade and Best Costume Contest.

Fortunately, talent is not the only thing growing in Franklin’s backyard. Without pumpkins, there would be no PumpkinFest. And without a PumpkinFest, there would be no pumpkin roll. To ensure that there is indeed a PumpkinFest, the Town of Franklin sources around 500 pumpkins for the event.

“In years past, we have gotten pumpkins from Deal Farms and Tallents Produce,” Scruggs explained. “All of the local farms are amazing to work with and very helpful.”

More than 600 people participated in last year’s Pumpkin Roll with the winner rolling 877 feet! Registration opens at 10 am. with a 10:30 a.m. start time.

Sign up for the “World Famous Pumpkin Roll” is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with the actual “roll” from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The object of the contest is to see who can roll a pumpkin the greatest distance down Phillips Street, vying for bragging rights and a $100 grand prize. Last year’s Pumpkin Roll winner rolled 877 feet.

A limited supply of pumpkins will be available for purchase at the event or bring your own.

The 27th Annual PumpkinFest is Oct. 21, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine in downtown Franklin.