Willimantic dishes up the sweets for Chocolate Festival
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Feb. 18, 2014
While the Chocolate Lovers' Soiree and Cabaret was postponed due to expected heavy snowfall later in the day, the remainder of the 10th annual Willimantic Chocolate Festival went on as planned on Feb. 15. An early-morning Cupid Made Me Do It Urban Scramble found bridges and some sidewalks still covered in a slick layer of ice, which necessitated some modifications to the course, according to race directors Rich Baber and Susan Sacco. But the run still took racers, most dressed in Valentine-appropriate colors, 2 miles through downtown Willimantic and over a total of four bridges.
Last year’s Cupid race began at the high school, said Baber. Moving the event to a more central, downtown location, “has made a huge difference in the number of people involved,” he said. While last year’s race drew approximately 40 runners, this year drew 116. “So that’s a really big increase,” said Sacco. After finishing the race, runners were invited to the First Baptist Church, where they could get a bite to eat, participate in an awards ceremony, and listen to live music.
Friends Joann Keys and Tamara Lovett had come from Woodbridge with their two sons to participate in the race. “It’s one of the first races of the year, and we knew it would be warm,” said Keys. “So it’s a good way to start the 2014 racing season.”
The runners said that some portions of the course were slippery. “Especially the foot bridge,” said Max, pointing to the bridge suspended above the race’s finish line. “We had to run single file through there.”
After the race, businesses up and down Main Street offered discounts, special events and freebies during the Chocolate Chip Stroll. A Cupcake for Later offered free samples of their mini red velvet cupcakes. Owner Cheryl Preston said that minis and event-sized cupcakes are produced by special order. The shop's consistent staple is jumbo, 4-ounce cupcakes. The shop offers 20 different flavors on a typical day. Favorites with the customers include Chocolate Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Lover’s, Chocolate-Covered Strawberry and Carrot Cake, according to Preston.
At Jewels Verne Jewelers, owner Gay Touma had set out a lavish spread of baked items, all of which she’d baked herself, most from scratch. “It’s my hobby, I really enjoy doing it,” said Touma. As some visitors sampled the sweets, others perused the jewelry items. “We make most of the jewelry here ourselves,” said Touma.
Rajean’s Gifts, Antiques and Collectibles was offering a 25-percent discount, free hot chocolate, and a program focused on the history of chocolate led by historian Bev York. York asked the crowd where the first chocolate producer in the United States was located, and was delighted when someone in the audience came up with the answer - Norwich, Conn. “No one has ever come up with that answer before,” exclaimed York, rewarding the spectator with a large candy bar. “Leffingwell in Norwich was actually the first chocolate maker in America producing chocolate to sell,” said York.