The tallies finally came in around 8pm on Sunday night as the volunteers gathered for a post-Garlicfest dinner near the food vendor court. It was confirmed. We had hit 7,200 passing through the gates on Sunday! That, on top of the 8,000 that came through on Saturday, made this Garlicfest historic and record-breaking!
With gates opening at 10am on both Saturday and Sunday, we had attendees eating garlic and garlic-inspired foods, shopping literally until they dropped (or at least needing a golf cart to carry them to their cars), strolling among the 200 vendors, listening to eight live bands including a 'standing-field only' last show by Funk In The Trunk, and enjoying the last days of summer.
The feedback we've received in person, through surveys, vendor feedback and on social media has been overwhelmingly positive. This is the Chamber's Superbowl so we pulled out all the stops for this great event. This year we've really tweaked things and I think they were a big hit. Parking was as smooth as anyone could expect with thousands trying to get into the festival. This was our first attempt at Wi-Fi Internet capability for vendors as they're requesting to access more card reader capability. Although there were a few bumps in the beginning, we got everything running; it's a learning process. We also tried out a new trash-recycling-compost style of waste management with TAM, which I think really worked as we look to be more environmentally conscious.
The Garlicfest Merchandise Booth was also a big hit this year. We've had merchandise before, but I think we really re-engineered the design, quality and style this year. We sold out of many things in the first day. We had a great group of volunteers working the merchandise booth, which featured a revamped logo and new assortment of Garlicfest t-shirts, hats, pint glasses, bags, stickers, and more. Realizing we were running out of merchandise well into day one, we began to create an after-Garlicfest post order sheet for people to purchase merchandise once we resupplied. That sheet is now 4 pages long.
Garlicfest is not going to solve our economic, downtown blues in one weekend, but I do think it helps. When you reach a critical mass of this portion, it has to influence our local economy. We're still getting final numbers from our lodging and restaurant members from the Labor Day weekend, but the numbers look really healthy. The Chamber is very dedicated to using all the tools in our toolbox to help pump up Bennington both from a tourist perspective and a business development perspective. We think the Garlicfest is one of our best tools to do that!
These are all great. Great numbers, great new innovations, and a great economic help. But I was perhaps most touched by the individual 'that a chamber' we've received throughout the week. Particularly, one that I read that night when I got home really touched me. Exhausted, fatigued, euphoric, I took one last look at my email and then my Facebook newsfeed. Someone had written something very nice on my personal page; it mattered more than any number. The person had written this, "I know you're going to be exhausted when you get home tonight so I wanted you to know that I went to the Garlicfest today for my birthday and my anniversary and this Garlicfest was the best one yet. A job well done today. Truly impressive. Please let all at the Bennington Chamber know."
The idea that someone had taken two very important anniversaries in her life and decided to spend it with us at Garlicfest and then that night, write a special note to the Chamber and me about it. That's what makes it worth it!
I said it last week in my column and I'll say it again, "your 'many hands' are the Chamber's oxygen." I'll add to that your positivity is also our oxygen!
Thank you Bennington for again showing the world what we're all about!
Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.