Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pigs and Pedals

How does a small city attract visitors to its downtown area during an otherwise quiet weekend? In many small towns, successful shops and restaurants depend not only on weekday regulars but also on customers after daytime hours end on Friday. To help maintain a lively downtown, community leaders in Asheboro, NC, plan several weekend events that draw locals and visitors to the heart of its business community.

Cooking teams set in next to Bicentennial Park in downtown Asheboro.

A creative activity in August is Pigs and Pedals, which combines two popular activities: eating barbecue and racing bicycles. Add music by local bands and craft beer served in a beer garden (the first time for Asheboro) at Bicentennial Park in the downtown center, and thousands of spectators come to enjoy the festivities as well as to observe the cooking teams set up in parking areas adjacent to the park. In addition, the Randolph (County) Livestock and Poultry Improvement Association cooks all night before selling hundreds of barbecue sandwiches beginning at noon on Saturday to raise money for local charities.

Meat for sandwiches being prepared by a civic organization smokes quietly
on Saturday morning before the crowd arrives and the street activities begin.

On Saturday morning, the downtown streets were relatively quiet except for the scuttle of cooking teams, contest officials, and a few pedestrians. However, by early afternoon, a crowd had arrived to enjoy the street scene and barbecue sandwiches.

A local civic organization sells barbecue sandwiches as a fundraiser.
Cooking teams brought their entries to turn-in tables at historic Sunset Theater, which opened in 1930 and was recently renovated by the city with $1 million in improvements. Upstairs in a quiet room that seemed far removed from the sounds of the park, the judges evaluated the chicken, pork ribs, pork and beef brisket to determine which teams would take home the prize money.

Judges evaluate competitive entries upstairs in the historic Sunset Theater.

The “Pedals” part of the event was a Criterium bike race along the streets of downtown Asheboro. Cyclists from across the state and region competed on a closed circuit course in races that began at 9 a.m. and continued until 4 p.m. on Saturday. The cyclists raced in front of an appreciative but small audience. By mid-day, the crowd was lured to Bicentennial Park by the smoke and aroma of barbecue in huge cookers now ready for the sandwiches.

Racers complete another lap under the banner that marks the finish line.

With 32 barbecue teams competing for $12,000 in prize money, Pigs and Pedals was quite successful. Although Criterium bike races had been held in downtime Asheboro in the three previous years, this year was the first time that the barbecue competition had been sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

Early arrivals buy barbecue sandwiches when they go on sale.

Like other small cities in the South, Asheboro has endured plant closings and manufacturing layoffs. In 2012 when a plant that made wires for car and truck tires was closed, another 310 jobs were lost. Pulling together to host Pigs and Pedals in this city with a population of about 25,000 does more than satisfy the desire for good barbecue. It also raises money for local charities, attracts first-time visitors, increases community spirit, and boosts the revenue of local merchants and restaurants.