HAMLET — The line for collard sandwiches stretched 20 feet at lunchtime. “Mountain Mike” drew steady crowds to the library parking lot as his chainsaw send wood chips and dust flying. And it seemed that everyone shorter than 4 feet tall carried around a prized inflatable alien or — pardon us — smiling poop emoji.
But vendors this year reported slower sales than at last year’s Seaboard Festival, and crowd estimates were down — 25,000, compared to 2016’s robust 32,000.
“It’s a disappointment,” said Kim Lindsey, past president of the Seaboard Festival board. “You just put on your festival and hope for the best.
“I really don’t have an explanation for the loss of people,” she said Monday, but “I was pleased at the way it turned out. Our goal was to put on a good show, and we did.”
Friends finding friends. Donna and John Pope of North Myrtle Beach staked out a bench in the middle of the food vendors while John tore at his friend turkey leg and Donna looked for people she knew.
The two lived in Rockingham for 48 years before moving 15 years ago and already had found several people with whom they had attended church. Donna ran across an old workmate.
“Everybody comes out and talks together,” she said. “It’s nice fellowship time.”
Down toward the Depot stood a cluster of Hamlet High School graduates sharing stories of their glory days — John Brittingham (1967), Mel Preslar (1961) and Ronnie Crooke (1966).
“The camaraderie of that one school in Hamlet,” Preslar said — “it’s hard to match.” Then he made a crack about how Crooke’s hair looked pretty good for a toupe.
Divine collards. The Rev. Henry Lockett leaned into his sales pitch, extolling the virtues of the collard sandwiches crafted by the ladies of Greater Diggs AME Zion Church.
“There’s a technique to how we cook it,” said Lockett, who appeared to be doing more supervising than cooking. “We do it with a dash of class. We’ve got a better product, and (we) sell it at a cheaper price ($5, as opposed to the $8 down the way). That’s why we run out all the time.”
Darlene Pearce and Danielle Shepherd of Rockingham each ordered a sandwich — collards cooked with hamhocks and bit a bit of sugar for the bitterness, layered inside what Shepherd said were cornmeal hoecakes.
“We’ve been looking for this all day,” Pearce said, clutching her foam to-go container.
Business is picking up. Workers for the city kept the street free of trash all day, homing in on dropped drink lids and napkins.
Firefighters, police and ambulance crews either stood by or strolled the crowds.
The only mishap was a child who bumped his noggin, Lindsey said. A bandage and a sucker fixed that.
Seaboard volunteers had come out at 4:30 a.m. to guide vendors to their spots. Dressed in bright yellow vests, they stood out plainly as they paced Main Street from festival opening to close.
“By 10 (a.m.), I’d already done my 10,000 steps,” said Seaboard vice president Renee Grvybowski. “Last I looked (before the battery on her phone died), I’d done 17,000 steps. It’s hard to sit down.”
The day goes by. At 9:30 a.m., visitors began to trickle onto the streets, some driving their classic cars to the auto show alongside the Depot.
By noon, it was difficult to maneuver. Lines formed at the lemonade and barbecue vendors and held steady through the afternoon. The women selling fried apple pies at the Church of God of Prophecy booth did a brisk business, keeping the eager hands of young church members busy.
At the kids’ area at the old A&P parking lot, children bounced on bungee swings, rode a mechanical bull — some with limited success — and jumped in a bouncy house shaped like Marshall, the firefighter from Paw Patrol.
Things slowed down mid- to late afternoon, as teens roamed the streets, eating and bouncing basketballs.
At the library at a tardy 4:30, Mike Ayers drew the names of those who would win his 3-foot and 1-foot chainsaw-carved bears. Though the parking lot was packed with raffle ticket-holders, neither winner was in the crowd.
Late-comers lined up for the last food servings before 5, when vendors began boxing up their wooden bowls, baskets and cheese boards.
At 5:30, pickups with trailers and loading ramps began lining the streets once crowded with people.
And at 6:15 p.m. — the deadline for the last vendor to vacate the street — a traditional Saturday quiet settled over downtown Hamlet.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.