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New Petunia Festival location embraced

Too soon to tell if it will be permanent

DIXON – A change to the Dixon Petunia Festival may become permanent.

This year, for the first time in its 49 years, the festival moved its music and food vendors from Page Park to downtown, near the riverfront. After the first few days of the festival, it seems that the move has been well received.

"I love it," said Marge Dixon, a Dixon resident who attended the first Petunia Festival. "I think it's wonderful. I think it's absolutly gorgeous."

Dixon said she planned on running in the 14th annual Reagan 5K run and walk with her grandchildren today. She added that she likes the seperation between the Taste Trail and music from the North American Midway Entertainment Carnaval, which remained in Page Park.

Gary and Shirley Steder, also of Dixon, would agree.

"I think this is nicer," Shirley said. "The riverfront is so beautiful. They've done such a good job."

The Steders, who are retired and decided to walk the short distance from their home to check out the festival Friday evening, won't be running this morning. Instead, they'll round out the 2013 Petunia Festival on the First Baptist Church float in the Petunia Parade on Sunday.

“It is too soon to tell (if it will stay downtown),” Petunia Festival President Andrew Brockwell said. “I’d like to see it, but I think the public will tell us.”

Bingo, held Thursday through today, also has been moved. The first 2 days at the Dixon Elks Club, 1279 Franklin Grove Road, were at capacity, event organizers said, adding that the crowd was nearly double what it was a year ago.  

Dixon Main Street Executive Director Josh Albrecht estimated 3,000 people attended the opening-night festivities Wednesday, and said there also were large crowds Thursday, despite it being Independence Day.

He said variables, such as the weather, make it difficult to compare success year-to-year. But Albrecht said this year's festival is “looking magnificent” and so far has had a bigger draw than 2012.

“I haven't had a chance to speak to all the businesses, but those I've talked to have been really supportive of the changes,” Albrecht said.

Sauk Valley Ministires, which has a shop on First Avenue that opens about 10 days per year, said Director Steve Joos, opened for the festival and had some of its antique merchandise on the sidewalk.

“It’s been good,” said Larry Dumphy, co-owner of Books on First, 202 W. First St. “We were open Fourth of July, which we usually aren’t. But because the bands were moved to downtown we decided to stay open.”

Dumphy said business was good Thursday, and that overall the new location, in terms of his business, is “definitely better.”

Other than opening for Independence Day, Dumphy said he hasn’t adjusted the business hours.

For one restaurant near the festival grounds, Salamandra Restaurant, 105 W. First St., the turnout hasn’t been what management expected when they heard the festival was moving closer

“It’s been slow,” Manager Kora Bajrami said. “The Petunia Festival is trying different things. … We’re hoping (Friday) and Saturday will be a bigger turnout.”

Owner Juana Ayala said the price, $12 per person for the week, $5 per person for the day and free for children less than 12 years old, may be limiting what families will spend at restaurants outside the festival grounds. She also said timing the festival with Independence Day may not have been as good an idea as planners expected, as many people attended family cookouts Thursday.

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