Laurel Board of Trade gears up for Saturday's Main Street Festival

Laurel has undergone many changes since the 1980s, but one thing has remained consistent over the years: the Laurel Board of Trade's annual Main Street Festival.

This year's Main Street Festival, the 33rd one overall, will be held on Saturday, May 11, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Main Street will be closed to traffic between southbound Route 1 and Seventh Street for the festival, which could attract upward of 100,000 people. The festival usually hosts about 300 vendors and service organizations are spread out along the street, said Janet Able, treasurer of the Laurel Board of Trade. In addition, live entertainment will be featured on three stages.

"It's just a really fun day," Able said. "It enhances that small-town, Main Street feel."

At 9 a.m., the festival will kick off with the traditional parade down Main Street. About 50 units will be lined up, including local churches, marching bands, businesses and ROTC groups, said Jim Cross, an honorary Board of Trade member who coordinates the parade.

Able said this year's festival theme is a celebration of the Laurel Board of Trade. Parade grand marshalls are Laurel Board of Trade Chair Matthew Coates and Fred Frederick, who was an original Board of Trade member and has operated Fred Frederick Chrysler dealership in Laurel for more than 50 years. Cross described this as "the beginning and the now" of small business in Laurel.   

The Board of Trade originated in the 1960s as the Main Street Merchants Association, and since then its membership has expanded to include more than 100 Laurel small business owners.

The Board of Trade recently redesigned its logo and created a new motto: "Small business. Big ideas." The new approach is intended to "encourage shopping local and referral among members," Able said.

"It's a nice networking setup," she said.

Organizing the Main Street Festival is "a huge undertaking" for the Board of Trade, Able said, but they are able to pull it off by dividing responsibilities between several committees.

"Now that we've been doing it so many years, there's a set pattern," she said.

Cross and his wife, Laurel, began contacting parade participants in February, and on the day of the festival, they will work with the Laurel Amateur Radio Club to install a speaker system, line the participants up in the correct order and run an information booth in front of the Women's Club of Laurel in the 300 block of Main Street.

"It takes a fair bit of effort to make sure everybody's sending you the stuff you need to have," Cross said. "It's not rocket science, but it takes persistence."

The 2013 festival will be the first in several years not to involve behind-the-scenes help from Gail Reinhardt, the Board of Trade's administrative coordinator who died last May after losing a battle with cancer.

Reinhardt, who became the Board of Trade's only employee in 2008, was one of the head organizers of the Main Street Festival.

Losing Reinhardt "was a huge loss and still is," Able said.

"Gail was the glue that held everything together," Cross said. "When you've got 300 vendors getting spaces, that's a lot of stuff to deal with," he said. "It's an enormous task, and she was really, really good at it."

Cross said he expects this year's festival to be a fun day for the community, as usual, and he hopes the tradition of good Main Street Festival weather will continue as well.

"We've had some iffy moments, but usually we manage to break down at 4 (p.m.) and then the rain comes," he said. "It's worked out pretty well."

Kriss Phipps, a Board of Trade director, said that a ban on animals and pets of all types will be enforced at the festival, in accordance with a city ordinance prohibiting animals at large events. 

Lifehouse Church, 1102 Montgomery St., will provide free parking and shuttle service to the Main Street Festival starting at 8 a.m. For more information on the Main Street Festival, call the Laurel Board of Trade at 301-483-0838.

Dan Singer is a journalism student at the University of Maryland.

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