Honfest draws crowds in Hampden despite threats of protests

There was no shortage Saturday of feather boas, rhinestone-bedazzled cat's eye glasses, leopard prints and bouffant hairstyles at the annual Honfest.

Despite threats of protesters and those opting to stay home and boycott, crowds filled Hampden's 36th Street for the yearly weekend festival celebrating the Baltimore hon.

"This is my favorite festival. It feels like a big costume party," said Sue O'Neil, who was selling her "O'Crabby Creations" — hand-painted crab shells with logos for the Ravens, the Orioles and the Utz girl, among others.

O'Neil was sporting her own leopard print blouse, cat's eye glasses and authentic beehive and rhinestone 'HON' necklace, as well as her "best Bawlmerese."

She thanked customers with "You's all have a nice day," or "Thank you, Hon.'"

O'Neil, who has been coming to the festival for the past nine years, said she was upset when she first heard about Honfest founder and Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting' trademark of the use of the word "hon." But she said she heard Whiting give an interview in which she explained the limitations of the trademark, and now believes Whiting was misunderstood.

Whiting also drew criticism from some Hampden merchants, who complained about a list of things Honfest vendors couldn't sell or promote, including anything bearing the Honfest logo, or anything that would infringe on the various Hon trademarks. The list also excluded politics and religion from the festival.

Her son, Thomas Whiting, has said the list was meant for out-of-area vendors, not regular Hampden merchants.

On Saturday afternoon, agitators appeared to have stayed home while Whiting's fans came out to support the festival.

Steve Kendall, 37, from Hagerstown stopped at the festival for the first time Saturday with his mother, Debbie, 57. He said he had heard about the hon controversies. "We had we had to check it out," he said. "It's great people watching."

His mother said she loved the hairstyles. "I love that they have the heart to do that. I don't have quite enough hair," she said.

Elissa Strati was one of those whose hair could withstand the heat and remain on top of her head, although she chose a more casual look, leaving the hair rollers in and sporting a long red-and-white housedress.

"Getting it down well takes two hours," Strati said of the taller beehive look. She knows — she went to her high school prom in the 1960s.

Strati, who owns the Avenue Antiques mall on The Avenue with her husband, said she hadn't seen any "hontesting." She said that the crowds seemed just as large as past years but that the festival got a slow start because of the morning rain.

"Honfest is always wonderful for business for us," said Strati, "A lot of people come from Hampden, but also all over the world," she said.

When asked about the flap over Whiting's rules for vendors, Strati said she has 45-some merchants in her shop who have sold accessories to help give customers the "hon" look.

"We've been busy for the past month with people getting their hon costume," she said.