The big Noble Street Festival, expected to attract thousands of people to Anniston for bicycle racing, music, food and shopping, is just five days away.
The annual festival is a companion event to the Cheaha Challenge, which started in 1992 as a bike race up to Mount Cheaha. By 2000, it drew about 150 bikers from the surrounding area, but when compared to other bike races it was small. Mike Poe, co-chair of the festival, wondered why it couldn’t be a bigger draw. So, volunteers started asking participants what they liked in the other events they entered.
The answer — activities accompanying the race would motivate them to travel farther and bring the family.
“There needed to be more to do for the weekend in order to justify someone bringing their family over to the Cheaha Challenge ride,” Poe said. “So, we created the Noble Street Festival as an attraction for riders, not only for locals to enjoy.”
Now in its eighth year, the festival brings between 4,000 and 5,000 people to the area, and the Cheaha Challenge has grown to a field of about 700 riders from all over the nation and Canada, Poe said. All those people boost the local economy when they spend their money at area restaurants, stores, motels and gas stations.
The downtown area hosts bike races and other activities from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. That can be a double-edged sword for some downtown merchants, because closed roads mean inconvenience to their local customers.
Super 10 manager Joe Mitchell said the festival lowers business volume in the Noble Street store.
“They’re mostly out for what’s out there,” Mitchell said, pointing to the street. “It just kills us.”
Other merchants are trying to make the most of the festival.
“We’re kind of on the fence,” said Jennie Preston, owner of Rabbit Hutch Gift Shop. “We do look forward to it from the standpoint of it brings so many people downtown. The other side of the coin is it is hard for our regular customers who aren’t coming to the festival to come in to us.”
Preston is taking advantage of the tourist attraction by commissioning and selling prints of a picture of the race from an artist. She also had some custom Anniston T-shirts made for people visiting the area. The T-shirts, which are already in her store, are also popular with some local customers, she said.
David Mashburn, owner of Classic on Noble, said his biggest boost from the festival comes the night before and at Sunday brunch.
He almost always has a private party rented in advance and the Sunday brunch is always busy on festival weekend, he said. He said he hopes that some of the out-of-towners who discover his restaurant will remember and recommend it to other people who may be passing through Anniston.
Yong Orlrwski, owner of King’s Palace Barber Shop, said her business isn’t affected by the festival one way or the other, but she still enjoys it.
“I like that there’s always something going on Noble,” she said.
Betsy Bean, executive director of Spirit of Anniston, said she thinks the festival is important even beyond the economic impact. That's because it showcases the good things available at local restaurants and retailers, while people enjoy fellowship with their friends and neighbors.
“Certainly, the economic impact is very good,” Bean said. “But beyond that, for us downtown, it’s such a quality festival and unique and that’s the kind of thing we want to have downtown.”
It also lets people focus on what is good about the community, she said.
“It just brings people together in a real friendly setting,” Bean said. “It’s another one of those events that helps build community.”
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545