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Crowd brings with it a fruitful first day

Organizers are hoping second-day rains don't cause attendance to suffer, as they did last year.

By JORGE SANCHEZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

[Times photo: Stephen Coddington]
Joan Flynn and her husband Marty Flynn purchase strawberrys from the Ferris Groves stand.
FLORAL CITY -- After a slow start caused by a drizzly, overcast morning, a large crowd turned out for Saturday's annual Floral City Strawberry Festival, leaving organizers breathing a sigh of relief.

"I feel very thankful that we were able to get this kind of crowd today," said festival chairman Joe Fallon, surveying the noontime crowd on Saturday. "I mean, looking at the weather this (Saturday) morning, I would have thought that no one would have wanted to come."

Fallon said Saturday's crowds averted a financial disaster for the festival.

"There are a lot of civic groups here, such as the Sertoma, that spent thousands of dollars on food, and if we'd have been rained out, they would have lost it," he said.

But by about 11 a.m. Saturday, the sun started fighting its way through the clouds, and the anticipated heavy crowds began showing up.

At the Citrus County fairgrounds, where one could have boarded a shuttle bus at 10 a.m. without waiting in line, it was a different story an hour later. Lines were long, but the average wait was only about 15 minutes. The county had eight buses running the 7-mile route between the fairgrounds and the festival.

The free bus rides will also be offered today, and it's probably the best way to get to the festival. There is plenty of free parking at the fairgrounds in Inverness and the bus drops riders off just outside the main gate of the Strawberry Festival. Admission to the strawberry festival is $2.

The weather forecast for today, however, is less promising. There is a 60 percent chance of rain. The same thing happened last year. A strong crowd showed up on the first day of the festival, but the rains came on Sunday and the attendance suffered.

The Strawberry Festival has a large arts and crafts sales area, plenty of food and live entertainment. Of course, there are strawberry shortcakes for sale.

The shortcake booth is one of the busiest, as throngs line up for the delicious dessert.

Shortcakes cost $3, and many people start off with dessert and then head somewhere else for lunch.

Other food includes barbecue chicken by the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, which also sells sweet potato pies.

Other foods include kettle corn, pork chops on a stick, cotton candy hamburgers and hot dogs.

Once you get your food, head over to one of the hundred or so hay bales to enjoy a leisurely meal beneath the shade of oaks.

After lunch, you might want to work off those extra calories by taking a walk through the trail, which winds its way through the arts and crafts exhibits.

This year's crafts feature a selection of woodworks, with crafters selling items such as shelves, decorative bowls, lawn and garden ornaments, tables and mobiles.

Other crafts include hand-made jewelry and clothing.

A classic car display is also part of the festival scene.

Who knows, after you've walked around the crafts area a couple of times, you might be able to polish off a second helping of strawberry shortcake.

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