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Chamber decides to stop holding BBQ festival

Sixteen years after it was created and began growing into the biggest event in Polk County, the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival has come to an end.

The Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce announced Wednesday morning it will no longer hold the two-day festival, which drew cookers from across the country and visitors from across the region.

Chamber president Andy Millard explained that the profits do not justify the tremendous amount of time and resources required to put on the festival each year.

In short, we are getting out of the festival business, said Millard (see his full statement beginning on the front page). We are a business organization, and we have made a business decision.

Millard added that the festival, which has produced losses when weather was unfavorable, represents too much risk, and the chambers efforts are better spent on other fundraisers.

The chamber plans to focus, he says, on providing more direct support for its members. He adds that the chamber is already working to create several new, smaller fundraisers which would pose less risk, but have the potential cumulatively to generate more profit.

To a very large extent we had become an organization that put on a festival, said Millard. Thats a very important thing to do but not what were here to do. We have to be a chamber of commerce.

Millard said the executive committee of the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce met Monday and agreed to recommend that the chamber end the festival. The full chamber board received that recommendation when it met on Tuesday and the board unanimously voted to approve the recommendation.

On Tuesday night, the chamber gathered members of the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival Steering Committee to share the news with them.

Millard said the suggestion to stop the event initially came from members of the steering committee, who volunteer so much of their time for the event but could see it was not providing a sufficient return.

Dale Musselwhite, chairman of the festival, said he can understand that many residents in the area will be surprised by the decision and many cookers, who praised the event, will be disappointed.

However, festival organizers began realizing over the past few years that it may not make sense for the chamber to keep it going, he says, and last years outcome made the decision clear. According to the chamber, the 2009 festival produced less than $12,000 in profit despite ideal weather conditions and a successful festival in all other respects.

Actually, with the amount of time that goes into it and to see the bottom line, its not a difficult decision, said festival chairman Dale Musselwhite.

Editors note: Look for more coverage on the decision to stop the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival in upcoming editions of the Bulletin.