A popular annual event is coming up this weekend in Harlem. The 34th Annual Oliver Hardy Festival kicks off at 9 a.m. on Saturday, October 7.
Hardy, half of the famous comedy duo of Laurel and Hardy, was born in Harlem in 1892. In 1989, Harlem launched its first celebration of its native son.
“We typically have vendors lining the street, they can sell anything from Christmas decorations all the way to hand-carved wood crafts,” said Meghan Foster, Director at The Harlem Museum and Welcome Center, the Home of the Laurel & Hardy Museum of Georgia. “We also have food and snack vendors as well.”
Although the festival focuses on fun and food, it is also an economically important event for businesses in the city of Harlem.
“Definitely, we see an increase in foot traffic, the festival brings lots of people from the outside that necessarily wouldn’t come to Harlem, maybe because they just live far away, or they’re just never on that side of the CSRA,” said Britney Stapleton with the Harlem Merchants Association. “I don’t have hard numbers. But I know generally in the past, speaking to our business owners, they see a huge increase in sales that day. For most of them, I think it’s their busiest day of the year, which is perfect, it’s leading into the holidays.”
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Harlem has just over 3,500 residents. For this one day of the year, roughly 30,000 people visit the city. COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the event in 2020. In 2021, Foster said attendance was between 20,000 and 25,000. She’s anticipating this year will mark a return to pre-pandemic crowds.
“Small businesses were definitely impacted by that,” added Stapleton. “So, you know, we’re still coming off of all those big hits. So, the weather looks like it’s going to be gorgeous. Everybody’s excited. And we hope that our stores and our businesses see the impact of that and have a wonderful day and see big sales from what they usually have.”
This year will include an entertainment stage and parade. The parade begins at 10 a.m. at Harlem City Park on W. Church Street. A popular contest also returns: the Laurel and Hardy lookalike competition.
“People can try to dress up as Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy. And whoever looks like the character, as close as possible, will win a prize,” Foster explained, adding they’re starting a new competition this year. “We’re doing this decoration contest for the vendors, so they’ll be having decorations up in the festival.”
Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel began appearing together in the days of silent films. During their partnership, they appeared in more than 100 short films and feature films. One of their best-known films is “Another Fine Mess.” The duo also toured with the USO to entertain troops during World War II.
The Georgia Business Journal has taken note of the popularity of the festival. It is in the running for the journal’s annual “Best of Georgia” in the Arts and Entertainment category. Voting is currently underway and will continue through October 31.
Stapleton is happy people are taking notice.
“So, it definitely brings people who wouldn’t normally come, it makes them aware that we’re here, and how cool our little town is and how clean it is. And we hope that turns into them coming back in the future. Because once you come, you love it, and you want to come back,” she said.