BASSETT — Nestled between Martinsville and Roanoke sits Bassett, which saw its heyday throughout the majority of the 1900s, first as a railroad stop and then as a furniture mega producer.

Unfortunately, in 1989, the area experienced the first of many drastic changes. The first Bassett Furniture Industries plant, known to locals as Old Town, closed its doors.

When the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994, the prosperity previously found in Bassett and surrounding areas rapidly made its way out of the country.

During the past two decades, major area employers including DuPont, Tultex, Stanley Furniture, Pluma Fleece, Ashmore Sportswear, Bassett-Walker Apparel, Fieldcrest Cannon and Panill Knitting Company all closed their doors, laying off workers and forcing former employees into other job markets.

But instead of watching the town fade away and the stories of those who lived and thrived there disappear with it, local residents and leaders gathered with a plan: They created an annual event with a focus on the vitality of the beloved southern Virginia town.

This Saturday will commemorate the 26th annual Bassett Heritage Festival. And at least one of the vendors on hand will provide a bit of irony.

“Bassett is so decimated now by the loss of the Bassett furniture industries. There’s so many people in town that made their livelihood there and most all of those jobs are gone now, said Tony Wright, manager of Wright Funeral Services and Crematory. “We’re just trying to keep that name, Bassett, alive.”

This year, Wright serves as the chairman of the heritage festival.

Hosted by the Stanleytown Ruritans, the event will kick off at 8 a.m. on Saturday in the parking lot of Wells Fargo in Bassett. That’s where the Ruritans will host a fundraiser pancake breakfast for their organization.

Expecting upwards of 3,000 people, the event will feature a variety of crowd-pleasing vendors. There will be shopping opportunities for folks seeking handmade jewelry, crafts, baked goods and an assortment of other items at more than 40 booths.

One of the exhibitors is in fact Bassett Furniture, which will showcase production methods of some of its pieces.

“For the first time ever, Bassett Furniture will have a trailer there where they’ll be demonstrating their new ‘BenchMade ‘line of furniture. There are going to be craftsmen there showing how that process goes,” Wright said. “I’m looking forward to seeing that, myself.”

The BenchMade line features wood from red leaf maple trees sustainably sourced from the Appalachian region. The completed products are available in a variety of finishes.

But there will be various other vendors.

“One of the biggest vendors this year is going to be the barbecue vendor,” Wright said. “They’ll be making barbecue there on the premises.”

At 8:30 a.m., a section with carnival rides will open for the youngest festival attendees – and those young at heart.

“There’s going to be seven or eight blowup, large carnival-type things. That’s sponsored by Bassett Furniture Industries,” Wright said. “It’s something dedicated just for the kids. It gives them their own area while the adults do the more adult things.”

Later, The Southern Gentlemen will hit the stage with a selection of bluegrass and gospel favorites.

And, of course, the Bassett Historical Center will be open for anyone who wants to inspect local history.

“We are taking part in it. Since the depot where they usually house the historical displays is being renovated, that’s not going to be open,” said Fran Snead, director of the Bassett Historical Center. “The historical center will be open for whoever wants to come in and tour.”

At 2 p.m., one of the highlights of the event will wrap up the day: A parade featuring local leaders, emergency service vehicles, businesses, organizations and other groups will proceed down Main Street.

Free and open to the public, Wright encouraged people to come out and enjoy the variety of festivities at the Bassett Heritage Festival.

“I think that the most important thing about the whole day is keeping Bassett alive,” Wright said.{/div}

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