Harlem businesses and officials are getting ready for the thousands of people expected to descend on the city's downtown Saturday for the 15th annual Oliver Hardy Festival.
More than 30,000 visitors came to last year's celebration of Harlem's famous son, Oliver Norvell Hardy, who was born in Harlem in 1892.
Derby hats and petite mustaches should abound as look-alikes for the 1930s comedy team of Laurel and Hardy bump elbows with tourists and residents making their way through the parades, booths and contests crammed into the one-day event.
"Almost all the pieces are in place," said Scott Dean, Harlem'smayor and the chairman of the Oliver Hardy Festival Committee. "You've got it so organized now that it pretty much does itself up until the last moment, and then that last night we'll be running around like chickens with our heads cut off."
The festival kicks off Saturday morning with a children's parade on Main Street, followed by a full parade.
David Bartlett was one of many Oliver Hardy impersonators at last year's festival.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Kathy Sparks, who heads up Harlem's newly formed historic, trade and tourism department, spent last week promoting the city and the festival during the Governor's Conference on Tourism that was in Augusta.
Dean said 300 craft, food and group vendors already have signed to line the sidewalks of this year's event, and there's always the last-minute rush of participants.
Cindy Greenwell, the owner of BG's Deli & Fine Catering, said the downtown Harlem restaurant is stocking up on food for the day.
"We'll probably have three or four times on hand than we normally do," she said. "That's our biggest day. It tops any other day during the year."
For the first time, The Laurel and Hardy Museum of Harlem will show classic movies and short films of the team, such as the Oscar-winning The Music Box and Perfect Day, during the festival.
The all-day, free screenings were not possible last year even though the museum had just opened.
"Last year, we had just opened when the festival came around," said Denise Carter, the curator of the museum, which opened in July of 2002. "The theater was not ready last year during the festival."
After the parade last year, thousands of visitors to the Oliver Hardy Festival walked along the street looking at the arts and crafts for sale.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Rotary Club of Columbia County West also extended their annual bicycle tours of Harlem during the event. The group added a second day of 30- and 65-mile loops around the county to attract more cycling enthusiasts.
The festival's annual street fair and supporting events is tourism boost for a city the size of Harlem, Dean said.
"It's our biggest opportunity to show off the town," he said. "Everybody in town, for the most part, they all jump in and participate. Every club, every organization, every church - they're all doing something to help promote Harlem"
If you go
The 15th Annual Oliver Hardy Festival will kick off at 9 a.m. Saturday morning with a children's parade in downtown Harlem. The event last all day and is capped off by an evening dance at Harlem High School.
To get to Harlem, take exit 183 off Interstate 20 and drive south on Appling Harlem Road.
For a full schedule of festival events, see page 7.
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