The pungent smell of success
2019 Garlic Fest sees record turnout of 16,300
BENNINGTON — For the Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb festival, this year was a game-changer.
The Bennington Regional Chamber of Commerce welcomed over 16,300 visitors to Garlic Fest this Labor Day weekend, breaking the previous record of 15,000, according to a media release from the chamber.
"I think the one person I'd love to share that with and text and call isn't with us anymore," said Matt Harrington, executive director of the chamber. "Lindy Lynch — she would be the most excited of all of us. There's a bittersweetness to it."
Lynch, a key organizer and champion of Garlic Fest, died on Aug. 3 after a long battle with cancer.
Those involved in the festival, including its legion of volunteers, really brought their best in memory of Lynch, he said.
"Everyone stepped up majorly," he said. "With Lindy gone, everyone knew they had to put on their best show, and they did. It's what created the best festival that we have so far."
The farmers market-style Garlic Fest is known worldwide for its rows of 200-plus garlic vendors, kids activities, food trucks, beer and wine garden and regional live bands, and is considered one of the best garlic-themed festivals in the world by Reuters, according to the release.
This year's 24th annual Garlic Fest was held at Camelot Village on Route 9 on Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sunday, Sept. 1.
The sun and cool weather also probably a part in the turnout, Harrington said. "Some people think you want a really warm, nice sunny day, but you actually really want mild temperatures," he said.
Although organizers don't yet know the total amount raised from the event, money from Garlic Fest usually makes a third of the chamber's operating budget; the other two-thirds are from membership dues and sponsorship and advertising, Harrington said.
"It's just huge in our budget," he said.
Garlic Fest has positive ripple effects in the community beyond the weekend itself, Harrington said.
Based on a survey of attendees, 76 percent said they plan to return to Bennington within the next 12 months, in addition to Garlic Fest, he said.
"Garlic Fest isn't a once-a-year economic and marketing phenomenon," he said. "It has ripple effects throughout the rest of the year as we introduce that Shires of Vermont charm to the attendees during the festival."
Harrington also credited the festival's legions of volunteers as instrumental to its success.
"GarlicfFest would not happen if it were not for our tireless volunteers and captains," he said in the release. "They provided over 2,000 hours of free labor in volunteer hours. We had over 150 volunteers throughout the prep week and then on the weekend that give back to this chamber and community. Garlicfest works because at its very core it is a labor of love for many people."
Organizers hope to "tweak a few things here and there" for next year's 25th annual Garlic Fest, Harrington said.
"It will be very minor things," he said. "We got a good thing going here, and I think that proved this year."
Organizers plan to add a means to take credit and debit cards at the gate, he said.
"Of course, everybody can [still] go online and purchase ahead of time," he said.
Volunteer captains are meeting next Monday to debrief on the event and determine what went well and what can be done better, Harrington said. They do that every year.
Organizers are also talking about building up the 25th anniversary event even more.
"One of the ideas is really promoting Bennington as Garlic Town USA on Labor Day weekend," he said. Organizers also hope to have dignitaries at next year's festival.
"We will be back next year, and we want the whole town to celebrate with us [for] our silver anniversary," Harrington said.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.
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