Weekend crowds upbeat

Tin can motorcycles made by Shao Lin Xia were among the items for sale Sunday during the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Craft Show held in Wragg Square.

Grace Beahm

Downtown Charleston was bustling Sunday afternoon as tourists, locals and those attending the first weekend of this year's Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto gave evidence of a rebounding economy.

The mood was upbeat at Gaillard Auditorium, where the Sunday afternoon performance of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male classical troupe dressed as ballerinas nearly sold out.

Overall ticket sales won't be tabulated until after the festival, and Spoleto Festival USA

Director Nigel Redden could not be reached for an update Sunday.

Piccolo Spoleto Executive Director Ellen Dressler Moryl was enthusiastic.

"Ticket sales are going well," she said. "I'm extremely pleased. It's still early, but I would predict sales are better than last year."

Outdoor events such as Saturday's Children's Festival in Marion Square have been particularly successful, she said.

Marion Square also was busy Sunday afternoon, as crowds checked out the annual art show and sale.

"There's a lot more happening this year," said Sabine Guiot Avcalade, an artist who has been involved for 13 years. "People seem more comfortable."

There's no doubt that Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto draws thousands to Charleston each year, but many of the visitors downtown Sunday were simply there to see the town. For instance, at the Holiday Inn across from Marion Square, a tour bus was unloading passengers. A woman who was with the group said they were from the United Kingdom and were touring the East Coast, and she was not familiar with the festivals.

Whatever the reason, business was good at hotels and restaurants surveyed. All the rooms were

booked at the Mills House Hotel. At Slightly North of Broad, a nearby restaurant, business was about 10 percent better than this time last year, a manager said.

The recently renovated City Market also was crowded Sunday afternoon, although the wider aisles made it easier for people to walk around.

Charlie Shelton has been selling prints of his wife Susan's pressed flowers there for 20 years. He said they usually don't get business from those attending Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto, but he sold a few prints to passengers of the Carnival Fantasy cruise ship that spent the day at the terminal.