Feb. 23, 2022 -- It was a wintry weekend in Florence, with sunshine, rain and cooler temperatures. While not as sunshiny as the previous couple weeks, the weekend still brought hundreds of people to the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce’s Wine, Chowder & Glass Float Trail from Feb. 18 to 20. The event concluded with the return of the annual chowder festival trophy to Novelli’s Crab & Seafood.
“People were raving about the weekend,” said Florence Chamber President/CEO Bettina Hannigan. “And we couldn't have done it without all the volunteers.”
The chamber has two staff members, Hannigan and Mitzi Hathaway, director of tourism development, along with Chamber Ambassadors and board members. Many of those, in addition to other volunteers, stepped in to support the event, including members of the 2022 Rhododendron Court.
“It was fun to see people just walking all over town,” Hannigan said. “There was just such gratitude (from business owners). ‘Thank you for doing an event.’ It was like a summertime weekend in February. Yeah, it brought in that kind of revenue. And they needed it.”
The event started on Friday with the opening of the Glass Float Trail. These hand-blown glass floats were hidden all over town for people to find, and then given away at the end of the weekend.
Saturday featured the Wine Trail and two auxiliary events. Hundreds of people filled Historic Old Town Florence to sample wines from area vineyards, hosted at businesses and restaurants.
“We went through 750 glasses easily,” Hannigan said. “As to how many Glass Float and Chowder Passports we sold, I'm thinking probably around 500 at least.”
Some of the locations provided food to either grab and go or purchase.
The trail also led people to the Florence Events Center, where Florence Regional Art Alliance hosted “A Taste of Art and Wine Festival” on Saturday and Sunday. The event included wine tastings and a juried art show.
The winners included:
· 1st Place, 2D – Ed Larson, “Woman in White,” metal on wood
· 1st Place, 3D – “Larry Bishop,” walnut maple vase
· 2nd Place, 2D – Julie Strecker, “Let the Sun Shine In,” watercolor
· 2nd Place, 3D- Kathy Allen, “Oceanic Bliss,” pine needle/gourd-alcohol ink
· 3rd Place, 2D – Tara Kemp, “Old Ladies,” oil on canvas
· 3rd Place, 3D – Ginny Kliever, “Cranberry Bog,” felted hat and scarf
· People's Choice Award – Karen Mohr, “Tara's Dahlia,” watercolor
Artists were able to showcase their works and hold demonstrations.
“It had a really good vibe,” Hannigan said. “The booths and vendors that were there had nice products.”
Hathaway coordinated the wine vendors for both events, working with OLCC and the City of Florence on licensing and permissions for the weekend.
“All those details she had to coordinate — Mitzi’s such a trooper,” Hannigan said.
Saturday night, City Lights Cinemas hosted the Vino Challenge, featuring the film “Bottle Shock,” games and 1285 Restobar pizza. More than 30 people attended the game night.
Sunday was all about chowder as restaurants pulled out all the stops with tastings of their gourmet clam, crab or seafood chowders.
Three-time champion Novelli’s Crab & Seafood took back the trophy this year after Lovejoy’s claimed the title in October 2020, the last time the festival was held.
“DJ (Reynolds) at Novelli’s was shucking and cracking crab for 19 hours the day before to make all that crab chowder,” Hannigan said. “It was close. Firehouse, who took second, and Novelli’s were neck and neck. Literally, they were less than 20 points apart.”
Lovejoy’s placed third.
The win was especially meaningful to Reynolds, since it was the first win for Novelli’s since the tragic boat accident that killed Amber and Kyle Novelli in 2020.
“No words could explain how I feel … this one is for mom and Kyle,” Reynolds said in a Facebook post.
The weather didn’t prevent more than 500 people from sampling the chowders.
“The feedback I'm hearing is people really had a good time. Everybody I ran into was really happy,” Hannigan said.
While it stormed throughout the day, Hannigan said the sun came out right at 3:15 p.m., when the chamber was preparing to announce the winner of the Chowder Trail and do the Glass Float Giveaway.
“It was a bit miraculous,” she said.
In the future, Hannigan envisions the possibility of closing Bay Street for the event, especially with that many walkers touring Historic Old Town. For that, the chamber would likely expand the people needed to run the Wine and Chowder Trails. Interested people should reach out to Hathaway about stepping in to volunteer.
The next event for the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce is the Rhododendron Festival, from May 18 to 23. That event takes dozens of volunteers to work on the many events included all across town. Applications for the parade, carrying banners and vendors are now available on the chamber’s website. Tickets for the Davis Shows NW Carnival will be available in the coming months.
In addition to Rhody Days, the chamber is also working on plans for the annual Fourth of July in Florence.
All this while continuing to support local businesses and promote the area.
“We're really doing this because we want our community to be a thriving community,” Hannigan said.
For more information or to volunteer with the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce, visit florencechamber.com or stop by the Florence Visitor Center, 290 Highway 101