Story by Kristina Hoti
It is estimated that at least 35,000 visitors streamed into Warwick on Sun., Oct. 1 for the 29th Annual Applefest, produced by the Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce. The idyllic fall weather drew visitors from near and far to the Village of Warwick, to sample from the many food and beverage stands, and browse the products and crafts of over 50 non-profit businesses, for whom Applefest is their largest one-day event.
A children’s carnival, pony rides, and multiple face painting booths were available to keep the children entertained. Specialty and ethnic food stands offered everything from gourmet peanut butter, doughnuts, fresh baked pretzels, and fudge, to Greek gyro, Polish pierogis, Caribbean Cuisine, and cheese steaks.
Musicians and performers played throughout the day on multiple stages set up throughout the Village, and vendors lined both Railroad Ave. and South St., starting as far back as Third St., in addition to the municipal parking lot where the two intersect. Sidewalks on Main St. were packed, and local business bustled on their busiest day of the year.
Applefest is the largest festival in Orange County, and named one of the “Top 100 Events” in the country, according to the events website. Applefest was started in 1989 as a way to celebrate the apple harvest, which is an important part of Warwick’s culture and industry. Executive Director of the Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce Mike Johndrow sat in front of their location on South St., where Applefest 2017 T-shirts were being sold.
“I am so proud of this community and its volunteers, and how everyone is working together. It’s huge,” said Johndrow, who explained that attendance for Applefest 2016 was not quite as large, since the weather had not cooperated. But this year, the day was sunny and cool.
“Today we are setting a record,” Johndrow said at around 2:30 p.m., when South St. was completely lined with people as far as the eye could see. “It’s been like this since 10 a.m. this morning. Usually it starts slow in the morning, and then tapers in the afternoon.”
At 11 a.m., middle school and high school students from the Acting Out Playhouse performed on the Railroad Green, presenting songs from their current production of In the Heights. Students of the Acting Out Playhouse audition for their roles at the start of their fall session, before beginning to learn staging and vocal parts.
Since Applefest falls so early in their session, the performance was prepared with only two rehearsals, making their performance even more impressive. Terry Odell, Acting Out Playhouse Artistic Director, teacher, and owner, said, “The Acting Out Playhouse has been performing for 13 years at Applefest, and it is one of our favorite events. It gives the students an opportunity to perform, give of their talents and passion, but most importantly they feel part of a large, loving community. There is not a moment that we don’t feel proud of our beautiful Village.”
Various musicians performed throughout the day as well, with E’lissa Jones taking the stage at the Railroad Green, keeping the crowd energized and children on their feet. Shannon Rogers was among the musicians who took to another stage on Second St., alongside the Christ Episcopal Church, where an acoustic set-up provided a break from the hustle and bustle.
Bill Steinauer, of the Warwick Community Center, and a member of the Applefest Committee, said, “We wanted to create a quiet, relaxing place…we wanted to be near the church, so here between the two churches is perfect.”
Steinauer explained that in past years this area was closer to the main vendor areas, right alongside Kuiken Lumber, however the event has increased in size to such an extent, that this stage would not have been able to provide the calm atmosphere for which it strives in its previous location.
Over 50 non-profit businesses held booths at Applefest, including many local artists. Kari Roslund demonstrated her craft, of creating felt paintings, in front of her sister’s house on South St. She uses dyed wools like angora, cotton, cashmere, and even yak, which are meshed, or entangled together, along with 100% reclaimed natural textiles, to create her artwork, which was displayed throughout the front property of the house.
Countless local merchants set up booths, and in the case of Ochs Orchard, proceeds from Applefest were being donated to the Warwick Valley H.S. crew team. A large team of 50 kids is currently practicing on ergs that are special rowing machines used for training, which are overused and breaking down, according to Kerry Demetroules, of Ochs Orchard. The Ochs booth was fully staffed with members of the crew team, working together toward their goal.
“Our philosophy is to keep them off the streets and rowing a boat!” Kerry Demetroules cheerfully said in between calling out to passersby, offering fresh cider and apples.
Rosalyn Vross, owner of Old Willow Crafts, arrived to her spot alongside Peck’s liquors, in the municipal lot, at 4 a.m. in the dark, to set up her booth. In business for 35 years, Vross has been coming to Applefest for the past 20 years.
“This is the biggest crowd in one day. It’s my best one-day show,” said Vross.
Vross creates custom signs, home and outdoor décor, even personalizing items right onsite for her customers while they wait. A resident of Walkill, NY, Vross was an art teacher who wanted to stay home with her kids. She began her business doing just a few craft shows, and now attends 40 to 50 shows a year, and paints every day of the week.
“It’s a family business; everyone helps out,” she said proudly. “I end up making a little bit of everything…I love it.”
Brett Behney, Crew Chief for Sherri’s Crabcake Sandwich, with headquarters in Harrisburg, PA, set up at the intersection of Railroad Ave. and Oakland Ave.., said that they estimate selling anywhere from 1,300 to 1,400 crab cakes at Applefest.
“We’ve been doing it for so many years,” said Behney.
Larry Shaduk, of SNR Europa Deli, a Polish Deli from Monroe, NY, said that they have been attending Applefest for over ten years, and expect to sell about 8,000 pierogies.
Visitors from Near & Far
Visiting from Garfield, NJ with her family, Jennifer Logan said that her 55-minute drive was easy that morning, with no traffic on their way into Warwick.
“We’ve been coming since we were kids,” Logan said, “but this is our first time coming back in about ten years.”
Since her last visit to Applefest, Logan sees that it is “just bigger, in general.”
Richard and Lauren Donegan, of Chester, NY, brought their two-year-old daughter to Applefest this year. Lauren is a graduate of Warwick H.S., and was happy to share her home town tradition with her husband and daughter for the first time. Richard’s first impression of Applefest was that it is “a great place to see your friends and to do people watching.”