LAURINBURG — With the 2015 Scotland County Highland Games and Kuumba Festival in the books and this weekend’s John Blue Festival and Storytelling Festival of Carolina still in the planning, local businesses stand to benefit as much as county residents in search of entertainment.
Last year, those four festivals brought an estimated total of more than 14,000 people into the county in late September and October. With two festivals to go this year, local businesses are already reaping the benefits.
While the storytelling festival is a relative newcomer to the scene, this year the Kuumba Festival, held on Sept. 26, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Likewise, this Saturday and Sunday will mark the 32nd Annual John Blue Festival.
The Scotland County Highland Games celebrated its seventh year in the county, picking up where the Flora McDonald Highland Games, held for decades in Robeson County, left off.
“This past weekend was one of our best that we had in a long time, Saturday especially,” said John Cartrette, proprietor of The Main Table in Laurinburg. “We could definitely see the increase in out-of-town customers.”
Cartrette and the restaurant’s staff, who have come to recognize the familiar faces of regulars, noted a number of newcomers during the weekend of the Highland Games and estimated that business saw a 50 percent boost on Saturday.
He noted that business is beginning to increase after the slow summer months, when many people save their pennies for trips to the beach and the mountains. The Main Table frequently caters to out-of-towners in search of a sit-down meal, given its location convenient to U.S. 74 and positive reviews on online travel sites.
“We have gotten an increase off of our tripadvisor ratings and things like that, so we know people are travelling,” said Cartrette.
The last week’s rain did dilute some of the influx normally associated with the Highland Games. Mary Peele, assistant general manager of the Holiday Inn Express, said that the hotel was sold out for Friday and Saturday until last-minute cancellations.
“Bookings went back to normal due to the rain,” she said. “But the years prior it was actually completely sold out.”
For the coming weekend, the Holiday Inn is looking at a level of bookings higher than the usual 75 percent for an autumn weekend.
“It usually starts winding down after Labor Day, other than when we have events like this,” she said.
Right across Plaza Road, the Quality Inn is nearly booked for Saturday night, between two days of the John Blue Festival. That hotel, according to general manager Seth Mullis, was also just short of booked for the Highland Games.
Though such events are temporary, hotels do adjust their staffing levels relative to the number of occupied rooms.
“The more rooms you have to clean, the more people you need to work,” said Mullis.
In addition to attractions, musical groups, and craft vendors, festivals also bring novelty dining options from outside of Scotland County — and on Saturday, Laurinburg’s Golden Corral could tell by a diminished lunch crowd.
But the number of people staying in hotel rooms and searching for a hot meal made up for it.
“There are times in the day when those things are going on when we get really busy,” said kitchen manager Joey Robbins. “Later on toward the evenings it seems we get a little busier than normal when those are kind of ending.”
Robbins said that he restaurant gauges its sales levels on a weekly basis, analyzing based on hourly projections.
“We have been running a little bit more steady,” he said. “We have actually been really good here and over the last year our sales have increased every week for a year straight.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.