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Festival a mecca for unique items

Sure, plenty of funnel cake, ground-steak sandwiches and homemade fried apple pies were available at the Autumn Leaves Festival along with the usual jewelry, clothing and crafts, but also tucked away there was the truly unique.

Take, for example, the therapeutic cherry pit packs offered by Wendy Carter of Fuquay-Varina, which promise to relieve a variety of discomforts.

Then there were the microwave cozies of an equally uniquely named operation called Cattle Dog Crafts. Not to be left out, rarity also flavored the realm of culinary items at the festival, where something else one doesn’t see too often was selling at a rapid pace: pumpkin fudge.

Also entrenched in the realm of the unusual were earrings made from the state soil of North Carolina, bullet and shotgun shell casing jewelry and something called toys’ fairy hair.

About 160 craft-type vendors were at the festival in all, joined by about 20 offering various foods.

Business is the pits

Wendy Carter is thought to be the lone North Carolina maker and purveyor of the cherry pit packs, described as a natural alternative to heating pads and ice packs combined.

“As far as I know, I’m the only one,” said the festival vendor of about 10 years, whose business was so brisk Saturday afternoon she could barely stop to answer questions.

“I have heard of another in Tennessee,” Carter said of someone offering such craft products that are proportionately popular. “My customers tell me they can’t find them anywhere else.”

Carter, the owner of LoriLea Creations, first got involved in making therapeutic cherry pit packs after a friend who did so asked her to help with them for a craft festival.

Turning out those items requires a little bit of doing, starting with the namesake pits.

“My husband drives up to Michigan and gets about a half a ton of them per year from a processing plant,” Carter explained, which are then formed into the packs that have all-cotton covers. They can be heated in the microwave or chilled in the freezer.

“They’re unique — they make you feel good,” she said of the pit packs that reminded one of the Icy Hot type hawked by Shaquille O’Neal, but all-natural.

Their applications include not only soothing aches and stiffness such as sore knees, shoulders and necks, but easing headaches, comforting growing pains and warming the bed, crib or cold hands and feet. The packs, which come in different shapes and sizes, conform to the body.

“It’s great for nursing moms,” was a testimonial from Paula Jones of Mount Airy as she made a purchase from Carter.

Honoring beloved dog

When strolling through the festival area Saturday afternoon, the sign for another vendor station couldn’t help but stop an attendee in his or her tracks: Cattle Dog Crafts.

This was the venue of Terri Johnson from Lewisville, whose specialty is the microwave bowl cozies.

These basically are protective shields that come in handy when heating up the leftover chili from last night, for example.

“You don’t burn your hands,” Johnson said of the cozies in which a bowl can fit snugly. “It insulates your hands.”

The cozies are attractively adorned with colors including those of various sports teams, reflecting an interest of Johnson’s which also explains how Cattle Dog Crafts got its name.

It honors her late canine Votto, who was an Australian cattle dog, a breed that, yes, is used in herding livestock.

Votto was named for Joey Votto, a first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. The dog Votto died on Memorial Day from complications after knee surgery at 9.5 years of age.

“We wanted to come up with a name for our business,” Johnson said of the operation run with the help of her mother and Cattle Dog Crafts was the finalist in memory of Votto.

Other items offered by Johnson include hanging towels that are attached at the top to allow them to be used without being dropped on the floor. She also markets more conventional products such as key chains and different pet accessories.

“Everything is handmade,” Johnson said.

Pumpkin fudge

A long line also presented itself Saturday at a location where Steven Martin was busily selling a treat called pumpkin fudge — seemingly what results when chocolate fudge smashes into pumpkin pie inside a supercollider.

Not really. The pumpkin fudge is produced in a kitchen as are other types.

“We only make it September through Thanksgiving,” said Martin, who is associated with Bear Creek Fudge Factory, a downtown business. “It’s seasonal.”

In addition to straight pumpkin fudge is a type containing nuts.

Although folks were vigorously snatching up containers of the “orange delight,” Martin admits that pumpkin fudge is not everyone’s cup of tea.

“Some people like it and some don’t — kind of a love-hate situation.”

Those who don’t cotton to pumpkin fudge have 80 other flavors to choose from at the business.

“Awesome” attendance

Nearly every square of downtown Mount Airy seemed to be occupied by people Saturday afternoon, when it didn’t pay to be claustrophobic.

Aside from some sprinkles on Sunday, beautiful early fall weather boosted attendance for the Autumn Leaves Festival, which a longtime observer of the event says has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“I think we’ve all been bottled up so long with COVID and everything,” said Yvonne Nichols, now a visitor information specialist at Mount Airy Visitor Center who was director of the festival for 24 years.

“It’s just part of my life,” she said while assisting drop-in traffic at the center during the event and witnessing its success.

“Yesterday’s turnout seemed to be larger than usual,” Nichols said of Friday, echoing the assessment of others who agreed that the healthy festival attendance figures indicate the coronavirus is no longer a major threat.

With people meandering toe to toe and elbow to elbow with nary a face mask readily visible, COVID-19 instead seemed to be a distant memory.

“I think it’s awesome,” Nichols said of the crowds inhabiting downtown Mount Airy during the weekend.



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