Beautiful fall weather greeted the kickoff of the 51st annual Hope Heritage Days Friday evening.

Shortly after booths opened at 5 p.m., hundreds of people had already gathered on the Hope town square to enjoy the festivities.

Later in the evening local band favorites Hard Tail and Oddz R took to the bandstand on the gazebo to rock out as visitors meandered through the square checking out what food and craft vendors had to offer, which included everything from bratwurst, wood-fired pizza and slow-smoked pulled pork to handcrafted items for the home and clothing.

Michael Dean, CEO of Hope Heritage Days, says Friday evening proved to have the largest crowd in recent memory.

The WYGS Gospel Sing featuring God City at the Hauser High School Gym attracted a crowd that exceeded previous years, Dean says. And the bandstand on the square was rocking well into the night, Dean says.

“Oddz R actually played longer,” Dean says. “I’d never seen so many people on the square for a late show. After 10 p.m. they were still going.”

This year’s festival is offering more than 80 vendors offering a little something for everyone, says Tina Dean, chairman of craft and booth team for Hope Heritage Days.

“I think we have a really good mix this year,” she says. “If you look, it is not the same thing at every single booth, each offers something unique, which is something we never had. You have to have balance so you please everyone and I think we have done it this year.”

Among the festival’s new vendors this year are Renner Motors and Cricket Wireless. However, the main focus of this year’s vendor spotlight is the nonprofit organizations who are participating, including the Columbus Young Marines and The Litter Box Kitty Rescue.

“This is the first time we have had so many nonprofit organizations in our booths,” Dean says. “And I’m excited.”
Keisha Keen, of The Litter Box Kitty Rescue, says her organization has participated in Heritage Days for the past five years.

“It is good,” she says. “As a nonprofit we do very well and have a lot of traffic,” Keen says.

Lifelong Hope resident Brian Green says Heritage Days is a very important event for the community.

“It brings the community together,” the 42-year-old says. “And it brings people in to see this beautiful community and how people are.”

Having attended the event since he was young, there is one thing that certainly keeps him coming back, he says.

“I come back for the food,” Green says. “The soft-cured pork ham sandwiches. I love that and look forward to it every year.”

Jaime Renner, a volunteer with the First Baptist Church Youth 180 Ministries, says Heritage Days is an important event for the programs his organization offers.

“For us, as far as fundraising goes, this is our main funding source,” he says.

Renner’s wife, Brenda, is helping out at the group’s food booth this year, which located on the west end of the square, says she enjoys seeing all the people who come through.

“For the town of Hope, in general, it is a fun event that brings in a lot of visitors,” she says.
Businesses around the Hope Town Square will see increased traffic this weekend as some are keeping extended hours, like WILLow LeaVes of Hope.

Lisa Long, co-owner of WILLow LeaVes of Hope, says the town couldn’t ask for better weather this weekend, which is forecast to be warm and sunny through the end of the festival Sunday afternoon.

“The weather makes all the difference,” she says. “Our theory is our doors are open when there is something happening on the square. Some people just need a dining room atmosphere and that is another reason we are here.”

But Long and her staff are helping out with the festival this year in other ways.

“We are helping a lot of the food vendors over there because we finally have more refrigerator space and we are helping to bake things for the food vendors,” she says. “We just want to pay it forward constantly.”

The festival, which attracts upwards of more than 30,000 to the Hope community over its three days of festivities, is yet another opportunity to introduce new visitors to what the town has to offer, Long says.

“There are still some people out there who don’t know we are here,” Long says. “It is about making a great weekend. That is what it is all about, that is Hope.”