CAMDEN, NJ — Memorial Day weekend is a time to honor and remember the veterans who have died in service to the country.
It's a time that many take to head to the beach or plan short vacations as a preview to the soon-to-arrive summer season.
This year in the Parkside neighborhood, it was also a perfect time for an annual meet and greet between area small business owners.
Residents strolling down Haddon Avenue on Saturday afternoon could pop into the fifth annual MayFest for a one-stop tour of local shops, organizations, and services while enjoying some free food and drinks.
About 15 businesses, like The Queen's Storehouse and Paparazzi Accessories, set up tables at the open-air Parkside Learning Garden. A mix from Camden-raised DJ Rob carried through the district and helped to grab foot traffic.
"This is just a way to get business owners out and network," said Rashaan Hornsby, president of the Hadden Avenue Business Association. "Some of the businesses actually donated things, like Mario's Pizza, so it gives the community a chance to actually sample a bit of what's on the corridor."
MayFest, which organizers said had typically drawn 50 to 60 families, was in new territory convening during the holiday weekend. HABA and Parkside Business & Community in Partnership previously avoided holding the event close to Memorial Day, for obvious reasons.
"We figured the crowds wouldn't come out, there wouldn't be enough vendors available," said Jonathan Wetstein, vice chair of HABA and program manager for the garden.
But then, in planning for 2019, it wasn't really up to them. A scheduling conflict arose, leaving this weekend as the best option for MayFest.
"We were hoping that there were a lot of people that decided to stay home," Wetstein said, "and to our surprise, it actually has been one of our stronger turnouts."
Hornsby said it was important to give back to those who would still be around and searching for a local activity. Adults and families with small children alike had an option at a familiar place nearby.
"We believe that a community should have everything you need inside, it should be able to sustain itself," Hornsby said. "In the city of Camden, with some parts that upward of 56% of people don't have cars, you need things right in your own community to do because a lot of people can't travel to Atlantic City or Wildwood."
While residents enjoyed the day, the registered business owners had the chance to reach new clients who could potentially spread the word. Some of the businesses don't have the day-to-day benefit of a storefront to draw people in.
Wetstein said at least four organizations were looking to use the learning garden for upcoming events, which would cost a nonprofit around $70 for setup and cleanup.
Because the garden cannot feasibly remain open at all times, he said, interest in renting the space impacts its availability to residents.
"The more partners that come out to have events in this space, the more times we can open up the gate," Wetstein said.
It's not lost either on the Parkside advocates the need to draw business that cycles through the community. Hornsby noted the obstacles faced in trying to promote development.
"We're trying to get more home-grown people that really care and have roots connected to the city of Camden," he said. "If people don't live here and don't support the city, all that wealth and all that revenue leaves the city, so we're trying to keep it here."