At about 3 PM on Sunday, July 9th, every cell phone in the Elks Lodge of Pompton Lakes blared the same recognizable alarm. It was an emergency alert from the National Weather Service. FLASH FLOOD WARNING, it read.
There would be two more emergency alerts before the afternoon ended. But people stayed at– and continued to come to– the event, many with smiles on their faces.
For many, the rain didn’t spoil the general air of enjoyment and camaraderie. It was the second year of Witchfest, an event organized by Holly Wood, owner of the Strange Boutique in Blairstown.
The event’s Instagram page describes the event as a festival “for the magical,
whimsical, and unique.”
“The goal of my event is to bring a community of like-minded individuals together to appreciate and support artists, small businesses, entertainers and creators alike,” Wood wrote in an email.
Over fifty such creators had gathered at the lawn of the Elks Lodge in Pompton Lakes, many with tents designed for outdoor vending. Then the rain arrived.
Moving quickly, Wood moved as many vendors as possible indoors while the vendors who stayed outside positioned themselves and their merchandise to stay as dry as possible.
Vendors sold a variety of merchandise, much of it well-suited to the event’s name. Attendees shopped for crystals, candles, jewelry, wands, original artwork, CBD products, and essential oils, or stopped for a Tarot reading or Reiki session.
Some vendors came up with tag lines specific to the event, like vendor Jennifer Rose. She marked her cat product business, Freddy’s Cat-a-Tonic Cat Toyz, as “offerings for your familiar.”
With many vendors forced to cram their displays into the lodge’s hall, space was often limited and moving through the aisles required many repetitions of the phrase “Excuse me.” Yet neither attendees nor vendors seemed to mind.
“I like events like this because it brings out the good folk with their good energy,” said Brianne Hanlon-Ecoffey, who ran the table for Sunny Vibe Crystals, a business owned by her sister.
Vendors agreed on both the good energy and a good day for sales, with some pointing to the event’s inclusivity as one of its major selling points.
“It’s very open to the LGBTQ community,” said Olive Logan, an artist who sells original artwork under the business name The Humble Vulture. As a queer disabled person from West Milford, Logan appreciated that the event welcomed them, adding: “I really like Holly’s vibe.”
“I’ve met a lot of cool people, and I think it’s no secret that I’m the openly queer and trans booth here,” said Mac Allen, the trans artist behind Sharkboy Stuff. “But I feel safe here.”
Any attendees from Blairstown would also have recognized familiar faces at the tables for Gallery 23 and the Blairstown Enhancement Committee.
Afterward, the goodwill clearly visible at the festival itself spilled over into social media. Wood’s Instagram post thanking indoor vendors, outdoor vendors, attendees, and event helpers received almost 200 likes and a series of positive comments.
“The feedback was incredible even with the rain as an issue,” Wood wrote in an email. “The vendors were so understanding with some changes we needed to make due to the weather and ran with it well! Even during the sporadic rain showers, I had hundreds of people attend and were pleased with the event.”
Soon after the event, Wood posted that due to popular demand, there would be a second iteration of Witchfest this year, currently scheduled for Sunday, October 15th at the same Pompton Lakes location.
“I would like to keep this creative community I have built with the shop, shop events and WitchFest, together and thriving by supporting creators and their creations of all kinds,” Wood wrote.
Judging by the immediate surge of vendor applications for the October event, Wood and Witchfest are well on their way to doing just that.
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.