By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Booth days at the 45th Harvest Homecoming embarked Thursday under a different set of circumstances than last year.
The biggest change — and definitely a welcomed one — is that this year’s festival has a functioning Sherman Minton Bridge to carry patrons from Kentucky to downtown New Albany.
Due to a crack in the structure, the bridge was closed during the 2011 festival, as travelers were forced to find a different route for Harvest Homecoming.
With the bridge open, kids out of school for fall break and warm sunshine saturating Southern Indiana on Thursday, thousands of people flocked to the city to enjoy food, games and fellowship.
“For a Thursday, I think it has been really busy,” said Mike Bartley, who was helping sell roasted corn in the Holy Family Troop 36 booth along Market Street.
His counterpart in the booth, Kris Anderson, said it’s not typical for kids to be out of school during Harvest Homecoming.
“I bet you’ll get lots of people out here because of that,” he said.
Having the Sherman Minton Bridge open couldn’t have hurt attendance Thursday either, Carl Cannon said.
“Last year, it definitely had an effect,” he said of the bridge being closed.
Cannon was serving Italian sausage, donut burgers and deep fried Snickers bars to customers at the Corydon Lion’s Club booth.
Families huddled on the sidewalk or sat on corner benches enjoying grilled pork chops, hot dogs and barbecue.
“We’re here probably for the food more than anything,” Floyd County resident Jeff Lawrence said. “And to socialize with old friends.”
Terry Middleton has been a downtown business owner since 1972. As has been the case for several Harvest Homecomings before, he set up a booth outside his Middleton’s Karate/Kickboxing/Boxing School off Market Street for the festival.
“Each day is a unique and a different day,” he said of the Thursday through Sunday running of booth days. “It’s good for downtown even more now than ever because of all the businesses.”
One of the highlights today is the Business Luncheon, which begins at 11 a.m. in the Riverfront Tent. Booths run from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Mayor Jeff Gahan said the weather forecast is good for the weekend, and that he hopes the festival will also be blessed with good attendance.
“I’ve been coming to Harvest Homecoming since I can remember, I don’t think I’ve missed one,” Gahan said. “My family and I just love it.”
As Gahan did Thursday afternoon, he said he plans on spending some time at the city of New Albany’s booth at the corner of Pearl and Market streets to talk with residents.
Of course he joked that’s if he can manage to step away from the food vendors for a minute or two.
“I usually eat about one of everything down there,” Gahan said.