May 23, 2024

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Once upon a time, a trip to the mall was a destination in itself, an ideal opportunity for shopping, window gazing, enjoying an afternoon movie, and a bite to eat. These days, with the profusion of online opportunities, those excursions don’t seem quite as popular as they once were, even though there’s nothing like looking at a store’s wares first hand.
That’s the idea behind the Foothills Kids Fall Festival and Gentry Mercantile Birthday Celebration taking place Saturday at the Foothills Mall. The free event will include music from the bluegrass band Gray Ridge Ramblers from 9:45-11:45 a.m. on the mall’s center stage, followed by a county music concert by Willie Franklin. All tips and other proceeds Franklin collects will be donated to the Lost Vets Rescue, a nonprofit organization that aids homeless veterans in our community.
Meanwhile, there will be plenty of family activities taking place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. as well, including a scavenger hunt, face painting, a basketball throwing contest, a balloon artist, a sucker pull, paw patrol, corn hole boards, a visit by Snow White, a putt putt hole in one competition, craft, photo and a tattoo station, and free popcorn and cotton candy.
Other participants will be onsite during the day as well, including Townsend’s Artistic Bean selling their special coffee brews, a kettle corn and pork rind vendor, Grant & Grace offering Gentry Mercantile customized shirts, and a bake sale.
In addition, there will be several special attractions set up outside the mall. A small market will have goats and chickens on display, as well as fresh eggs and local produce. The TN Cookie Lady will offer fresh homemade bread, while Coning Family Farm will have mums and pumpkins for sale. Representatives from the police and fire departments of Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County will also be on hand.
So too, a collection of antique tractors and hit-and-miss engines will be on display, courtesy of the Heritage Antique Tractor Club.
The idea for the festival originated with Barbara L. Gentry, owner of Gentry Mercantile. The shop, which sells locally produced arts and crafts, has been at different locations in the mall for the past five years, and marks each anniversary with its own special celebration.
After finding success with her own annual celebration and promotion, Gentry thought it would be a good idea to expand the festivities into what she hopes will become an annual celebration.
“This year I wanted to get the entire mall involved,” Gentry said. She enlisted the help of Brenda Allen, owner of Lynn’s Discount, and found several businesses in the mall that were willing to participate and offer free activities in front of their stores.
“There are a lot of exciting things happening in the mall right now,” Gentry said. “We have many new businesses opening up. We currently have two restaurants in the mall. And because Gentry Mercantile has a really good crowd at our store every year for our anniversary celebration, I wanted to be able to capture some of that momentum for the rest of the stores in the mall.”
Gentry subsequently pitched the idea at a monthly meeting of the mall’s business owners. “Everybody loved the idea and they were immediately on board,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier with the reaction and cooperation that we received from the mall and the mall management. The mall management has been with us every step of the way through this planning process. We have 110% of their support.”
Nevertheless, Gentry envisioned the festival not only as benefit to the businesses, but also for the community as a whole. “This is fall break for a lot of kids, and parents are looking for activities to do with their children,” she said. “This is also a perfect opportunity to showcase how the mall is growing and expanding.”
That said, the plans came together quickly, all within the space of the past three weeks.
“It was a very short time to get a lot done,” Gentry said. “Because of that, it did take a lot of work to find activities and vendors to come on a Saturday. A lot of people were already booked. We worked really, really hard to get as many fun free activities inside and outside of the mall as possible. It’s taken a lot of effort between myself and Brenda Allen to organize this event.”
Despite all the effort, Gentry said everyone involved has enjoyed putting the event together and that they plan to do it again next year, and make it even bigger and better. “I think it’s fun to have these type of events,” she added. “They’re fun to organize. I enjoyed collaborating with Brenda and the other mall stores.”
At the same time, Gentry said that the festival provides a way of expressing appreciation to the mall’s customers and colleagues. “There’s bigger picture here,” she said. “We wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t for the love and support that the community shows us, not only now, but during covid. This is a way for the stores in the mall to give back to the people who support us on a continuing basis.” Inevitably, she sees the event as an opportunity for locals to come out and enjoy the activities. “We want the kids to come out and have a blast,” she said, “Plus, I want our community to see how great Foothills Mall is.”
What: Foothills Kids Fall Festival and Gentry Mercantile Birthday Celebration 

When: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 
Where: Foothills Mall, 197 Foothills Mall Drive, Maryville
How much: Free

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