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Blueberry brief: This year's festival by the numbers
Posted 08 - 03 - 2009
A little more than a month after the Texas Blueberry Festival crowded the downtown streets with a spectacle of food and motorcycles and blue animals and, yes, blueberries, the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce has finished the business of crunching numbers on the event's economic impact on the area.

In a presentation before the city commission Tuesday, festival Chairwoman Michelle Smith cited figures that underscore the event's reputation not only as a fun attraction but also as a serious money maker for the city and local businesses.

Attendance at the 2009 festival beat last year's by 10 percent, bringing 17,600 people downtown, Smith said. Many of them were hungry for blueberries.

"We sold a record amount of blueberries from the Hayter farm," Smith said, putting the figure at 17,000 pounds of the miniature fruit. "I don't even know what that looks like."

According to calculations by The Daily Sentinel based on the chamber's figures, 17,000 pounds of blueberries is equivalent to the weight of a full-sized school bus. Lining up that number of blueberries — about 5.1 million individual berries — would make a line that stretches 33 miles, the distance from Nacogdoches to San Augustine.

This year, festival-goers were asked to fill out a small survey card that asked for a ZIP code, among other things. Using that data, the chamber partnered with the Columbia Geospacial Center to map out the hometowns of the festival's visitors. According to the resulting map, visitors came from more than 40 Texas counties, with almost half traveling more than 100 miles to attend.

"The significance of that is that they're bringing their credit cards and their cash and their checks," chamber President and CEO Bruce Partain said. "We end fairly early in the day, about 4 p.m. We unleash them on all the stores, merchants here in town, and they keep buying."

The chamber polled several local businesses that attested to increased traffic on the day of the festival. Gerry Larabee, owner of Heart of Texas, said the 2009 festival was "the best day we have had in years, if not the best day ever," according to the chamber.

According to hotel/motel statistics, out-of-town visitors spent $72,461 on hotel rooms. The chamber used a formula to estimate a total economic impact of $1.7 million generated by the festival.

Beyond the numbers, however, the festival also represents an intangible sort of East Texas fun, Smith said.

"I firmly believe that the blueberry festival really epitomizes what Nacogdoches is about, because it's a good wholesome, family opportunity to share a day downtown," Smith said. "It might be a little warm — I'll admit to that. But we're always bringing more new and more wonderful items to the blueberry festival to keep it exciting for those who live here."

Story written by Matthew Stoff with the Daily Sentinel
Friday July 24, 2009
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