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The Festival of the Little Hills has been around so long that families make it a tradition to go together, and vendors and repeat customers chat like old friends.

For 45 years now, the town of St. Charles celebrates the Festival of the Little Hills, always on the third full weekend every August on Main Street and Frontier Park. Local nonprofit groups sell food and refreshments, and juried vendors sell handmade products. The event is Friday through Sunday.

“I love coming back,” said Celeste Conley of Vinita Park, who runs a commercial bacon rind booth and a frozen and hand-squeezed lemonade booth that benefits her Boy Scouts troop in St. Charles. “As far as festivals go, it’s one of the nicest ones in the state of Missouri.” She works about 30 festivals a year.

Vicki Smith of Lake Saint Louis, who runs an embroidered and custom clothing booth called Oh So Cute with her husband, Kenneth, has been selling at the festival since the late 1980s, with 23 years at the same location on Main Street. She travels all over for shows, and it’s the only festival she sells from in Missouri.

“It’s a great show. I love it. I have good repeat customers,” she says. “People stop by my booth and say: ‘Here’s my granddaughter. Remember when I bought stuff for her?’ And the granddaughter’s in college.”

Fred Hawkins, 81, of Des Peres, has been selling handcrafted leather goods at the festival since 1975. One of his specialties is leather wristbands with names stamped on them, and he sees adult customers who got them as children. “I love this festival. I have one girl who has a dog collar made every year. She brings me a box of cookies. She leaves me a box of cookies, I make her a dog collar, and away she goes.”

New this year is scheduled entertainment at Berthold Square Park at Jefferson and Main streets, and contracted entertainment with a new company, said Christine Jacob, an organizer.

Returning is the popular Knockerballs attraction, which made its debut last year. Festivalgoers waited in long lines to get a chance to don an inflatable, ball-shaped suit, run onto a field and knock one another to the ground.

There are about 150 craft booths and 50 food booths this year, with about 90 percent of the food booths run by nonprofit groups. The focus of the fair is to help groups such as scouts and church organizations and to support crafters who make their own goods. The fair has a foundation that gives several $1,000 scholarships to high school seniors in St. Charles each year.

Free shuttles are available, leaving from Duchesne High School, St. Charles West High School, St. Charles Family Arena and EPC — Executive Personal Computers.

The festival is named for the city’s first name, Les Petites Cotes. It was founded by French Canadian fur trader Louis Blanchette in 1769 and named for its undulating landscape along the Missouri River. Festival organizers have had to keep a wary eye on the river in certain years, but despite floods and rain, the festival has endured.

“Luckily we’ve never had to cancel,” Jacob says. “We’ve wondered many years. We’ve made it through.”

What Festival of the Little Hills • When 4-10 p.m. Friday, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday • Where Main Street and Frontier Park, St. Charles • How much Free • More info 636-940-0095;

Valerie Schremp Hahn is a features writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.