Charlie Sher waved a large sign over his head and, in his best hawker voice, pitched his product to the crowds that packed Somers Point's Bayfest celebration.

"Lemon-ADE, Lemon-ADE," the 11-year-old Sher shouted Saturday. "One dollar for a large glass. Just 50 cents for a small one."

Later, while standing at their old-fashioned lemonade stand, Sher and his business associates - ages 9 to 11 - reported sales were strong.

"It's good. We have a lot of customers," Sher said.

Other vendors were hoping for the same success at Bayfest, an annual event that has evolved from modest beginnings into a major waterfront festival. Organizers expected 40,000 people to crowd a 14-block stretch of Bay Avenue for the daylong event.

Inspired by Earth Day, Bayfest started 25 years ago. In its first year, it took place on one block, attracting a relatively small crowd. Bayfest continues to honor the environment as it's grown into a sprawling community extravaganza that features live entertainment, 50 food vendors and 120 craftspeople.

"It's the first celebration of the year in South Jersey," Bayfest Chairman Frank Cosgrove said of the event's place on the spring calendar. "After a long winter, people are anxious to get out and enjoy themselves. I think we try to provide them with a little bit of everything."

This year's Bayfest certainly provided beautiful weather. Blue skies and mild temperatures allowed the crowds to take a leisurely stroll along Bay Avenue - closed to auto traffic for the day - and bask in the waterfront setting.

Vendors lined Bay Avenue under their tents, selling everything from jewelry to surfboards and T-shirts to toys. Bayfest was also a culinary delight. Crowds munched on crab cakes, gyros, sausage, grilled cheese sandwiches, shrimp, burgers, pizza, soft pretzels and more.

There was plenty of lemonade to wash down all that food. Sher, of Northfield, manned his lemonade stand with some help from a group of aspiring young business moguls. Among them were Tommy Gordon, 11, of Linwood, and Maggie Sher, 11, Liam Meade, 11, and Lilly Sher, 9, all of Northfield.

Other children were enjoying Bayfest's family-friendly attractions, including amusement rides, a petting zoo and a circus-like show by street performers. Brianna Turner, 5, and her 3-year-old sister Tristyn were planning to take a pony ride after having some French fries and chicken fingers for lunch. Their parents, Jackie and Colin Turner, said the family, of Mullica Hill, Gloucester County, comes to Bayfest every year.

"The kids love it," Jackie Turner said. "It's good to have so many things to do together and have some great family time."

Colin Turner, who grew up in Somers Point, uses Bayfest to reconnect with family members and old friends in town.

"I think what I really like the most is coming back and seeing people from school and others that I haven't seen for years," he said.

Kathy Arleth, the owner of Great Bay Gallery and one of the early organizers of Bayfest, said she is amazed by the festival's growth over the years. Somehow, Bayfest exploded in popularity about 20 years ago, she recalled.

"It grew and grew, like seeds,"Arleth said.

Arleth's gallery served as the location Saturday for the lemonade stand. Charlie Sher and Tommy Gordon are her grandsons. Arleth said the children planned to donate a portion of their lemonade profits to the Community Food Bank of South Jersey.

Other charities and community groups have benefited from Bayfest over the years. Festival proceeds support local projects through the Somers Point Recreational Trust Fund, said Cosgrove, the event chairman.

Bayfest is Somers Point's largest single-day festival. Business leaders are unsure of Bayfest's economic impact, but said it must be significant. Cosgrove and others noted that crowds come from all over the region, including surrounding states.

"The most important thing about Bayfest is that so many people get to know about the town itself," said Abby Spencer, president of the Somers Point Business Association.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258