As a late-afternoon thunderstorm passed, the scent of fresh waffle cones from a nearby store wafted over the large crowd gathered on the Village Green. The hums of hundreds of people chattering mixed with lengthy guitar rifts from a nearby stage and the sounds of transit buses shuttling people into the crowded square drifted in the air.
With a location change from Kenan Memorial Stadium to Southern Village and surrounding areas, the Fourth of July in Chapel Hill looked different this year.
Before the show
Hundreds of people roamed around and filled up the Village Green at Southern Village, even hours before the main event began. Many of those people spent time at local businesses
"I'm a small business owner in another town, so I'm glad to see them being so busy. I think this is great for the local economy," said Melody Price, a resident of Southern Village from Harnett County. "I think it's great for Chapel Hill to do this for Southern Village."
A wide range of event sponsors brought activities that people of every age could enjoy. Visitors could munch on gelato and pizza while perusing booths set up by organizations like the Rams Club and WCHL. Volunteers were handing out water and treats, and a live band's music filled the entire area.
"It's definitely a lot more people walking around, a lot more lively, definitely seeing more of the community than, you know, from the parking deck or trying to fight someone for a spot (in Kenan Stadium.)" Edward Patch, a Carrboro resident and former UNC biology student, said.
Just as patrons were happy to see an increased business presence, local vendors saw their share of the profit.
"We're very excited that the town decided to do it here, it brought a lot of business here," said Erin Pacheco, manager of La Vita Dolce Espresso, Gelato & Wine Cafe. "We've never had a line that reached outside and passed our business, so that was pretty huge. We sold out of most gelatos in the case and had to replace them."
The main event
As the sun set on the Village Green and the music slowed, many attendees changed their seating to better view the fireworks. This year, to improve safety, the fireworks were set off from Mary Scroggs Elementary School to prevent injury and errant fireworks from posing a safety concern.
Fireworks were seen over Pazzo restaurant and The Lumina Theatre from the Village Green. Other popular locations for firework viewing were Carrboro High School, Merrit's Pasture and the nearby Southern Community Park.
This year's event was made possible by Show Pros Entertainment Services, South Orange Rescue Squad, Orange County EMS, the Community Arts and Culture department, Chapel Hill Transit, the Parks and Recreation department, Public Works, Chapel Hill Police, Chapel Hill Fire and the Communications and Public Affairs department.
Bruna Gomez spent her first Fourth of July in Chapel Hill.
"In Brazil, we don't have them," she said. "We have parades but not fireworks, and all this kind of stuff, it's really cool."
"People have really accepted this in a positive light, and have tried it out, and by the numbers we're seeing and the smiling faces, I think people are taking it very well." said Ran Northam, community safety communications specialist for the Town of Chapel Hill.
Some area residents weren't as excited about the location switch-up. On the Facebook event page, some users expressed their displeasure with obstructed observation locations, changes in firework sites and traditions, and even with pollutants in the air.
Leading up to the event, parking lots in the Southern Village filled up, requiring on-lookers to use designated Park & Ride lots shuttled by Chapel Hill Transit. With the increase of temporary visitors to Southern Village, traffic jams occurred following the main event as hundreds left the area. Drivers were met with mild confusion, as poor lighting toward the exit areas led to decreased visibility of pedestrians and roadways.
To see more of this year's fireworks, check out the Daily Tar Heel's photo gallery from the event here.
Brandon Standley is the editorial managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel. He is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying public relations and psychology.
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