AMHERST – A modest crowd gathered in Amherst’s core early in the afternoon Friday, despite overcast skies.
“It’s a good idea,” said Melissa Chapman. “Bring people out.”
The mother had her infant, Addison, in a stroller. They were on a block of Church Street closed to traffic for the Downtown Amherst Street Party.
“Just checking things out right now,” said Chapman. She planned to return later to see a neighbour’s children take part in a woodsman competition and a tug-of-war.
The party was the product of planning by the Downtown Business Advisory Committee and others. Organizer, committee member and business owner Michelle LeBlanc previously said it was a second chance to celebrate the downtown’s renovation and an opportunity to thank first responders for their work during the Victoria St. fire.
“I think it’s about supporting the community,” said Cathy White, who co-owns Fort B Flowers.
It was one of the business-owned booths set up on Church St. White thought it was an opportunity for businesses to get some exposure and sell a bit of product. She said events like it should have a positive effect on the bottom line, creating interest and drawing customers to the community.
“I think it’s great so far,” said Harvey Haynes, whose metal art was on display in a trailer.
He was surprised by how many people were out for the event early (it ran from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.).
Helen Estabrooks sat with a friend in Victoria Square. An acoustic version of a rock song – a live performance – wasn’t to her taste.
“No, we’re mostly country,” said the older woman.
Happy people, for the most part. One man declined to comment on what he thought of the proceedings: didn’t want to say something negative about an event people whose opinions he cared about, cared about.
John Copp, president of the Cumberland Car Club was on Victoria St. with five members’ vehicles.
“We didn’t get very much notice,” he said.
Copp said he was told about the event Wednesday night.
As the afternoon continued on, the crowd grew larger. Children were out to see the activities the party promised for them and were delighted with the show. Clowns were making balloon animals, students were painting creatures on faces of very happy children.
Michelle LeBlanc, chair of the Downtown Advisory Festival and Events Committee who helped plan the event couldn’t have been happier with the large turnout.
“We had an outstanding attendance, more than what we had hoped for,” she said. “The weather co-operated and certainly the presence of all our councillors, our MLA and our Member of Parliament added to the recognition of all the work that’s been done to complete phase one of the downtown revitalization process.”
The event, LeBlanc said, saw great success. She said many vendors were also feeling the impact of the large crowd.
“Food vendors have told us that around 2 or 3 p.m., they had already surpassed the food sales that they had made during the Rockabilly festival. One vendor was actually completely out of food and had to return to his restaurant for more. Even the other vendors who are here, the craft vendors, are extremely pleased.”
LeBlanc said there is no doubt that they plan on doing the Street Party again next year and possibly turn it into an October Festival.
“We’d also like to hold a Blueberry Harvest Festival and we’re looking for volunteers right now to assist with a weeklong Blueberry Harvest Festival,” she said. “We’re ready to go forth and do more and have more events in downtown Amherst.”
LeBlanc said she could not be more pleased with the turnout and was proud of the outcome of the work by her and other members of the committee. She said they are excited and eager to work with the committee again to come up with more events to bring in people to the downtown of Amherst.
(With files from Jocelyn Turner)