By LISA CAPOBIANCO
The 33rd Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival lifted off last weekend with a crowd of folks and sunny skies at Norton Park.
Operated by the Plainville Fire Company, the free festival kicked off last Friday evening with balloon launches and a balloon glow, live music, a craft show and food. The first kick-off day of the festival ended with a fireworks show.
“It was incredible,” said festival co-chair Jim Lenois. “We had a great crowd.”
“It was unbelievable. The weather was perfect. We had a huge crowd, and traffic was very smooth,” said festival volunteer and Town Council Vice Chairperson Scott Saunders.
The weather held out throughout the weekend, as the festival continued on Saturday and Sunday with balloon launches, live entertainment and vendors. A car show also dominated Norton Park during the event.
The festival also continued with the major operational changes that began last year, including offsite parking, shuttle buses and a streamlined food process.
“We’re still working on the exit for buses, but it went a lot smoother,” said Lenois, adding how the food lines went smoothly. “A lot of the changes we implemented are working out pretty good.”
“Change is a never-ending process. Even this year, we’re trying to refine what we’re doing,” added Saunders. “But we’re miles ahead of where we were two years ago. It has had a tremendous impact on the event, and people see it now.”
This year, the craft show was redesigned to better accommodate patrons.
Many crafters and local business have returned to the festival for the past several years now, including Cindy Witter, owner of 24 Peace.
Since participating in the festival, Witter said customers have returned to her booth where she sells a variety of eco-friendly apparel embellished with original artwork. “It’s just a great crowd, and having the unique aspect of the balloons in the background is wonderful,” said Witter, who gives back to local artists and charities through a portion of each item she sells. “We’ve had return customers every year who look for us.”
Every year customers also return to Elaine Purvee’s booth for her hand-painted gourd birdhouses.
“Everyone just enjoys it,” said Purvee, who found her niche at a time when she expected to retire. “I love the people.’
For Kimberly Roy, owner of Walk By Faith Doggie Bakery, the festival’s family-friendly atmosphere has brought her back to the event where she sells all-natural dog and cat treats to pet owners. Every year she appreciates the efforts of volunteer firefighters and their families to put on an event that welcomes businesses like her own.
“They’re working so hard,” said Roy, who supports local charities through her family-owned company.
Established in 1885, the Plainville Fire Company is a nonprofit that helps raise money for student scholarships and town organizations like the Plainville Community Food Pantry. Food sales during the festival help support these causes.
“We gave over $2,000 away this year to the food pantry and over $6,000 in student scholarships,” said Lenois.