BURGAW, NC – The North Carolina Blueberry Festival is one of the only things that puts the small town of Burgaw on the map, but the pandemic has caused the festival to be canceled for the past two years and small businesses are suffering.
The region’s economy relies heavily on the festival to get businesses through the slow summer months, when tourists head to beaches in neighboring counties. In a single day, the festival brings in more than $ 2 million in revenue to downtown businesses alone.
âI always call it the Super Bowl for our city because it’s a huge influx of people, customers, people just wanting to explore our little area,â said Michelle Hilliard, owner of Brown Dog Coffee Company.
Coffee has been a staple in the small town since the early 2000s, but Hilliard said the store’s future became uncertain as the pandemic began. It has weathered many storms since opening its doors and each time its local customers have taken over. This small town takes care of its own.
âWe have a family atmosphere among businesses here, and we always root for each other,â Hilliard said. âPeople must have regrouped a bit. We had to maneuver in new ways and find different ways of doing business.
But Hilliard doesn’t want Brown Dog to just scratch; she wants it to be a light in the community and a welcoming beacon for anyone stopping by in the area – even though foot traffic this year is much lower than in the past.
“Most small towns have a bit of a heartbeat, and I probably go out on my own a little bit, but when I was a kid I would watch the show ‘Cheers’ and the thing was’ where everybody knows. your name, “and we kind of feel like that at Brown Dog,” Hilliard said.
She already knows that July is their lowest month of the year, but without the Blueberry Festival to act as a buffer, she hopes people will remember that the small businesses they have been so diligent about helping during the pandemic are not. not quite out of the woods yet.
âI think the resilience of communities like this across the country impacted people’s hearts and lives when we had to navigate the new,â Hilliard said. âWe are very grateful to our community, especially the support we have received this year. I hope people will always be considerate, concerned and connected with the small businesses in our region.