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Keep it Local!

16 September 2012

After fêting an array of local artists, crafters, performers and traders we joined forces with two women standing up to save Main Street and save Bel Air from the proposed entry of the Big Bad Big Box: Walmart.

“Can you believe that Bel Air has a festival of the arts?” I exclaimed to my friends a few days ago.

“Are you going?” they asked me.

If someone is taking all the time and trouble to organize a festival of the arts and doing so just a hop skip and a jump from me on a day that I am actually in town, why would I not hop, skip and jump over there?

Considering their banner is hung across the corner of Main Street and Idlewild Street, I couldn’t possibly miss it.

“What will be there?” my daughter asked me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “What risk are we taking by going to Shamrock Park and seeing what there is?”

Saturday came. After my morning rounds to the bank, farmer’s market and grocery store, I prepared to make lunch and was no longer sure I’d actually make it to the festival. Meanwhile my friend Lindsay who moved to College Park called me and said she was in the library as we spoke. So K and I quickly packed some leftovers, got on our bikes and went over to say hello, freshly cut dahlias from our

Lavendar-colored Dahlia grown at home

garden in hand. “Can we tempt you out into the sunshine?” we asked. That would be lovely, she replied. Some others in the cold library computer room on this sunny pre-autumn day glanced at us. If perchance they wondered why no one greeted them with flowers and invited them to go out for fun and frolic, they showed no signs of it and went back to their computing.

We walked out of the library into the warm sun without even borrowing a book. There is an arts festival going on, I told her, not pausing to ask myself how the surroundings were so calm with a festival going on. It had not occurred to me to think of the number of people who would come, almost none on foot or bicycle, and therefore filling the streets and certainly the library parking lot. As we neared Shamrock Park though, things were just too empty. I wondered why. Could it be that no one had even come? So many tents up and no people to visit them?? Finally we asked someone and found out that today was the set up day, the festival was tomorrow.

“Will you come?” asked my friend. Sure, why not, I thought aloud. “We can pretend that Bel Air is a place like New York or Boston where one can just stroll around and run into an art exhibit.”

And so on Sunday the thought of going to the Arts Festival had more presence in my mind. To my surprise both my mom and daughter decided to come along with me.

As we approached the park, K grew wary. “I don’t think this was such a good idea,” she said. She was not at all used to seeing Shamrock Park full of tents and swarming with people. She was upset that the playground area was fenced off and that the swings were tied up so as to be inaccessible and most certainly unswingable.

Bel Air Festival of the Arts 2012We strolled from one end to the other, admiring all the local art and craft. Beautifully decorated spoons, quilts, wooden toys with natural sound effects, actually locally made children’s dresses … the variety was amazing and prices were pretty reasonable. $75 for a beautiful quilt, $15 for a dress, $24 for a charmingly decorated serving spoon. Someone was selling “games without screens” – marbles, jacks and the like for $5. Someone was selling salt lamps that he imported from India and we talked to him for a while. He entertained us with tales of his travels through India.

K had been patient. My mom and I were ready to head back. “What we just got here!” K said. I couldn’t help giving her a knowing smile. She said, “yes, it always happens like this.” I said we could stay if she was fine with walking home. “Sure,” she said and tripped off to examine some hand-held pillows. So my mom set off on other errands downtown including getting garden supplies from True Value hardware leaving us to roam around the stalls. K asked some of the vendors how they made the crafts they had on display – those pillows, designed to soak up heat or cold, were filled with field corn. “Not the corn you eat, field corn.” K noted. We saw the tap dancers – actually the Silver Eagle Cloggers – perform on the stage. To our delight the Bel Air Arts Council was there and we saw Ryan Nicotra, the director of BOOM theatre who had performed Shakespeare last month.

That wrapped it up and we meandered towards Hickory Avenue. A long line formed near one of the booths where people could sit and paint plaster animal shapes. Were they really in line to paint little animals? I asked someone, who replied, “This line is for the bus back to the MVA Parking Lot.”

Wow, people had really come from all over the county and beyond, parked in the MVA parking lot and then taken a bus to come to this arts festival. What a luxury we had just walking fifteen minutes. As we neared the corner of Hickory Avenue and Main Street, we saw a little table, and to women standing near it. One of them asked me if I would like to sign a petition to stop Walmart from opening a shop (“superstore”) in Bel Air.

People stand outside Bel Air Public Library to collect signatures on a petition to say NO to Walmart’s bid to open a new store in Bel Air.
16 Sept 2012

You bet I would. We stayed and chatted. Their names were Kathryn Ellis and Helen Mann.   They remembered me from the Walmart meeting at Patterson Mill in July.   We talked about the poor press coverage following the meeting – focussing only on the issue of traffic, although traffic was hardly the only issue raised.  A new Walmart will impact far more than traffic, far more than the roads surrounding it, but will impact the local economy and culture of Bel Air, Harford County and counties like ours throughout the country, as well as the countries where products sold in Walmart are made.

K and I stayed and held up signs. Well I held up a bumper sticker “No to Bel Air Walmart” and K documented.  Taking photos of the people signing, she told me that we could make a small film and sequence the shots of various hands signing the petition. She then interviewed Helen – not sure how well the recording came through what with the traffic noise, but both she and Helen spoke well on the issue.  As people walked by, some asked us why we were opposing Walmart.  “Last month, two of the stores downtown went out of business,” I said.   If this trend continues, will we even have a Main Street?

More information:

Bel Air Arts Festival
No Bel Air Walmart
Against Walmart

Message from Bel Air South Community Foundation:

It is incumbent upon all of us to voice our concerns about the development of a Super Wal-Mart at Plumtree Rd so that they are aware of the magnitude of our opposition.  Contact both the County Executive and Mr. Gutwald at:
David Craig
County Executive- Harford County Government
Phone: 410.638.3350
220 South Main Street
Bel Air, MD 21014

From → Culture, Economy

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