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Memorial Week underway — with hopes it won’t be the last

SALISBURY — The annual Memorial Week events at J.C. Price American Legion Post No. 107 officially started Friday.
But, unlike in years past, there wasn’t much to see at first — only a few vendors who turned out early, selling food and clothing.
By Monday, the first of two nights of gospel singing had drawn a small crowd. The first of the carnival rides had arrived, although they won’t be set up and operating until Thursday.
And with them, Post Commander Mae Carroll said, will come 11 Salisbury Police officers and a supervisor — protection mandated by the city at a cost of $1,400.
At the same time, Carroll said, rising costs of supplies, as well as the pressure of the economy, are putting a strain on the decades-old Memorial Week tradition.
Carroll emphasized that nothing official has been decided, and won’t be until members meet in June following Memorial Week to discuss the event.
But, Carroll said, there is a real chance that this year’s Memorial Week carnival may be the last.
In the end, the weather may be a deciding factor, she said. As of Monday evening, the National Weather Service was calling for a 30 percent chance of showers or storms each day through Friday.
Carroll said she hopes people will still come out and enjoy the fun. Gospel singing continues tonight at 6:30 at the Legion hall, 1433 Old Wilkesboro Road.
And there will be dances, each with a “mystery DJ,” from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Organizers say it’ll be a lot of fun, especially for those who make Memorial Week an annual tradition.
But Legion post leaders say the response to this year’s Memorial Week might decide whether the event continues.
Losing Memorial Week would be a blow to those who know and love it, organizers said.
It would also impact vendors who sell food, clothing and gifts at the annual carnival.
Stanley Graham, of Mooresville, runs the Nice Ice frozen treat stand. His brother, Greg Graham, of Troutman, runs the Graham Photos booth that sells framed photos and novelties.
For them, Memorial Week is a family tradition. Their father was a vendor at Memorial Week years ago.
“I was a little kid coming out here,” Stanley Graham said. He’s been vending there with Nice Ice for six years now, he said.
Memorial Week has been profitable, and it’s good to have an event to go to that’s close to home, “but it’s not much,” Graham said.
“I put this trailer together myself,” Graham said, taking a moment to straighten things up at the front of the Nice Ice stand.
And he likes Memorial Week. “It’s fun, you get to meet a lot of people,” he said.
And even a half-hour before the gospel singing, customers had already started coming. “I’ve had a couple. As hot as it is out?” Graham said, grinning — meaning business had been all right.
Carroll said the police presence is good to have, especially in light of violence that’s happened in the area.
And past problems at Memorial Week have left a mark on the event in the minds of many.
In 2007, Treasure Feamster, 13, died as a result of a shooting in the parking lot of the Legion post. In 2008, several fights broke out at Memorial Week requiring police intervention.
As a result, Carroll said, the city requires that police be present during Memorial Week whenever the rides are in operation.
What Carroll said she doesn’t agree with is the $1,400 cost of police protection, or the number of officers required on site.
Although Carroll said members of her Legion post “have nothing to hide,” she believes the number of officers may deter some law-abiding citizens from coming to Memorial Week.
The cost also required the Legion post to raise its fee for vendors from $125 to $175 for this year’s event, Carroll said, “thinking we could make a little more money to offset our costs.”
“The economic condition of the west side is very poor,” Carroll said. “We’re surrounded by three projects, and we bring Disneyland to them because they’ll never be able to go.”
Gary Hall, vice commander of J.C. Price Post No. 107, said he’s been in the organization 23 years.
Hall said he’s glad to have the police protection, as it keeps troublemakers away.
But, while Feamster’s death is tragic and the police do a good job, Hall said he wishes that the past wouldn’t be brought up every time the Legion post wants to have an event. “I don’t think that’s fair,” Hall said.
Hall also criticized the fact that Salisbury Police are required to be out in force for Memorial Week, “but when Memorial week is not here, you don’t see that many officers out here” in the West End.
Proceeds from Memorial Week go to benefit children in need, as well as residents of the community.
“In the past we’ve used this money for the Central Children’s Home in Oxdord, N.C., for Easter egg hunts, a Labor Day picnic (and) crime prevention program,” Carroll said.
Carroll said the Legion post usually makes “about $9,000 to $10,000” off the event, “but I don’t see that happening this year.”
Other costs have increased. Carroll said the current carnival ride provider, TC Amusements of Rock Hill, S.C., gets the first $7,000 spent on rides, after which the Legion post gets 15 percent.
Hall said he’s optimistic that the event will make enough money to continue.
“Just seeing the kids enjoying themselves, and the rides, and just everybody getting together, is great,” Hall said.
Then again, if Memorial Week ever stops happening, it might never start again, Carroll said.
Currently, she said, the event is grandfathered in. Zoning restrictions would prohibit the carnival rides from being set up in a residential area, Carroll said.
“If we miss one year, that goes away and we would have to get an exception, and I doubt whether we would get it,” Carroll said.
Although she said there aren’t many complaints from neighbors, Carroll acknowledged that the lights, noise and increased traffic could be a problem for nearby residents.
Even so, Carroll said, the community would lose a lot if Memorial Week went away.
The churches and fraternal organizations that sell food and drinks would be particularly impacted, she said. “They would lose that camaraderie. and you would be surprised how much money they make,” Carroll said.
Vendor Greg Graham also said the community should get more involved to support the event.
“Maybe have talent shows, (or) have it to where different organizations could set up different booths. Set up little games and things,” Greg Graham said. “When you get the kids involved, parents are going to come, too.”
For many years, Memorial Week has been a family tradition.
Roy Leazer, historian and past commander, said Memorial Week began as a tradition in the 1920’s, and was held on the campus of Livingstone College and elsewhere around the community for decades.
“I enjoy seeing folks come back from various areas. When we first started out, we had people from New York, South Carolina, just coming back home,” Leazer said. “Now, a lot of folks are getting to where they can’t afford it.”
Leazer said that vendors used to bring in people from their families and churches. “Sometimes we’d have thousands of folks down here,” Leazer had. “Right now, we don’t know what to expect.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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