Posted: September 26, 2013 Celebrate Eau Claire a Success: Fest Draws Crowd
By Chris Vetter, Chippewa Falls News Bureau
Sammy Castonguay, 27, and his wife, Laurie, sat on the sidewalk and enjoyed the sights and sounds of downtown Eau Claire on Saturday. Their 4-year-old son Oshean was enjoying the bouncy-house and karate exhibits, while their 20-month-old daughter Neva was thrilled by the team of belly dancers in the middle of the street.
The Castonguays, who just moved to Eau Claire from Oregon, said they were impressed with the variety of exhibits and food at Celebrate Eau Claire, which drew hundreds of patrons to downtown Saturday.
"We're enjoying the festivities and seeing the downtown culture come alive," Sammy Castonguay said. "I didn't know what to expect. It's really nice to see the karate clubs and the dance teams out. Seeing so many people downtown is nice."
A couple of blocks down, Paula Bonnin, 39, of Eau Claire was finishing off a turtle fry bread, covered with chocolate, caramel and nuts.
"It was fabulous - I may have to get another one," Bonnin said with a laugh.
Bonnin said she and her friend come to the festival every year. Bonnin comes downtown frequently, and she liked that the celebration was a chance for the city to show off the newly reconstructed streets of downtown, although workers still need to erect street signs and place benches.
Photo by Salina Heller
Event officials changed the event this year from the annual International Fall Festival to Celebrate Eau Claire because of summer construction.
"It's nice, but I'm still getting used to two-way traffic," Bonnin said. "It's nice to get out before winter hits."
However, Bonnin thinks the event still should be dubbed as an international fall festival.
"I wish it were a little bigger, with more ethnic stuff, and show we are a diverse city," she said.
Sue Gallagher, 72, of Eau Claire attended the festival with her grandchildren, ages 6 and 8.
"They enjoy the pony rides and the blow-ups and all kind of performances," Gallagher said. "They are interested in everything."
Gallagher said she has attended the event the past five years, and was impressed with this year's festival.
"I love downtown Eau Claire, and I love the new bricks (on the street)," she said. "And I love seeing all these people downtown. I don't remember (this) many activities. It's neat and there are people of all ages."
Mary Chouinard of Chippewa Falls said it was her first time at the event. She grabbed a chair and sat under the sun while listening to the live music of the band In Kahootz.
"We didn't know what to be expecting," Chouinard said. "We were down the street, and we thought we would check it out."
Besides the music, Chouinard said she was impressed with the dancing groups performing in the streets.
Billy Siegel, owner of Revival Records, said the festival was a success for his business, as he saw five times the normal volume of customers compared to a typical Saturday.
"This is fantastic," Siegel said. "It's great to have everyone back downtown. It's the biggest benefit of the fall festival, is customers who weren't aware there was a record shop downtown."
Siegel said he felt the construction period went fairly fast. He said his sales were only slightly hampered during the construction period, saying his store is a destination point, so his normal customers still found ways to get there.
As part of the celebration, a time capsule was buried in the boulevard along South Barstow Street. It will have a ceremonial nameplate on the brick. Items in the capsule include historical pictures of the street, along with photos of the construction and completion of the street, along with articles from area newspapers.
To see a gallery of photos from the Leader-Telegram, go here.