Seven years ago, Annicon, a yearly celebration of Asian cultures, began at the Anniston Calhoun County Public Library and 50 people attended, organizers said.
On Saturday, nearly 3,000 people walked through the doors at the Anniston City Meeting Center for the annual event.
“There are blood, sweat and tears in this event,” Kim Westbrooks, the founder of Annicon said Saturday. “This year there seems to be a broader age range of attendees. More families.”
Westbrooks called the festival an “immersion experience.”
“Each year we hope to bring a piece of the world to Anniston,” she said. “It’s expensive to travel, prohibitively so. We wanted this to be a positive experience for people to come and enjoy.”
About 60 vendors sold handmade art, costume accessories and crocheted animals and hats. Jessica Collier, 17, and her brother, Sean Collier, 23, set up a booth at the event for the first time this year.
“We grew up drawing,” she said. “Our dad is an artist.”
The Colliers, from Gadsden, sold hand drawn stickers.
“We’re learning a lot,” Sean Collier said. “We’ve had a lot of requests for characters we don’t currently have in our inventory.”
The Colliers weren’t the only out-of-towners, Westbrooks said.
“We’ve got vendors from Birmingham, Chattanooga and Atlanta,” she said.
Some attendees arrived in everyday clothing while others donned costumes of their favorite characters. Gracie Vaughn, a Wellborn High School student, came wearing a baseball jersey with Pikachu — a small yellow squirrel-looking character — on it.
“This is my first time here,” she said smiling while perusing a vendor's booth. “It’s been a great opportunity to see new stuff and meet some new people. There are a lot of different things here.”
Jeremy Clark, a Jacksonville State University student, said he enjoys coming to the annual event.
“It’s something to do,” he said. “We don’t have a lot to do around here and it brings in a lot of people from outside the area to Anniston.”
A group of dancers from a Birmingham belly dancing company drew a large crowd as they contorted their bodies and the bells around their ankles jingled.
“We try to book entertainment that would appeal to any age group,” Westbrooks said. “A lot of times these kinds of events can be about one group, but we want to be as inclusive as possible.”