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Pails of berries chased away by buckets of rain

The first rain-out in 14 years had one bright note: Gallons of strawberries sold at a discount Sunday.

By JORGE SANCHEZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Brian Tietz]
Alexandra Mundreau, 5, competes in the pie-eating contest Saturday at the Floral City Strawberry Festival in Citrus County.
FLORAL CITY -- A crowd of more than 15,000 attended the opening day of the Floral City Strawberry Festival, but on Sunday, Mother Nature sent some of the rain she had been withholding.

The second day was canceled because of the weather, the first rain-out in the festival's 14 years.

Saturday's crowd packed Floral City Park for the strawberry festival. Festivalgoers devoured a record 5,000 shortcakes, said Joe Fallon, who oversees the food concession. About 15,000 paid admission, but children younger than 12 were admitted free. The crowd packed the normally serene Floral City Park.

"I was going around town last night, lining up some extra supplies because Saturday had been so wonderful," Fallon said. "But turned out they weren't needed."

Sunday morning dawned gray and rainy over Citrus. By 9 a.m. forecasters were warning of severe thunderstorms making landfall at Homosassa Springs. Though the severe weather passed to the north, it was still rainy enough that the decision was made to cancel the second day of the strawberry festival. Most of the food vendors and art exhibitors shut down their booths and were driving away by the time the decision was made to cancel.

Volunteers from the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, the Inverness Sertoma and many other organizations spent Sunday working to strike camp through drizzles and downpours. There were about 250 waterlogged hay bales to be removed, a small forest of stakes and poles to uproot, and signs and tents to take down and wash.

And lots of leftover strawberry shortcake.

The chamber held a flood sale on berries. Workers sold 5-gallon buckets of sliced strawberries, made in advance for Sunday's shortcakes. The asking price was $15 for a pail filled with about two flats of sliced strawberries.

Even though the festival lasted only a day, the extra-large crowd on Saturday helped many exhibitors break even, Fallon said.

Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Betty Pleacher worked through Sunday in what will be one of her final official acts before she leaves the job in a few weeks.

"I'm not unhappy," Pleacher said. "We really needed the rain. I'm sorry it had to fall on our weekend, but we did good the first day."

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