By Raymond Billy
This year’s Tomato Fest was bigger than ever.
A total of 156 vendors set up shop on Austin and Commerce streets, besting last year’s record by nine.
Vendors were jockeying for space up until the 11th hour. according to Laura Battle, project coordinator at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.
“Some vendors called, crying because they wanted a spot at the festival so badly, so I told them to come on over,” Battle said.
“The last person to secure a spot actually came in this morning at 7:30 a.m.,” Battle said. “She showed up and she was nowhere on my list whatsoever.”
One of the major challenges of this and every Tomato Fest is finding parking to accommodate so many people. Battle said parking was better than usual.
“It took us 30 seconds to walk here from where we parked,” said Jennifer Smith, who was attending her first fest with her children Logan, 9 and Landon 7. “It was no problem at all.”
In spite of the heat and humidity engulfing downtown Jacksonville on Saturday there were more people at this year’s fest than last year’s as well, Battle said.
But, the heat did play a minor factor in the day’s activities. An elderly man who suffers from diabetes collapsed by the antique car display and a female participant in the karaoke contest fell ill under the entertainment tent. She was taken to the hospital but the gentlemen was not.
East Texas EMS responded promptly to both episodes.
Besides the two medical emergencies, all seemed to go smoothly. There was plenty of heat, but no rain during the day. And, patrons were ready and willing to open their wallets at the various vendor sites.
Along with the vendors, revenue collected by restaurants and hotels as a result of the Tomato Fest is expected to reach at least $200,000, according to George Baker, chairman of the Executive Board of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.
Now that this year's festival can be categorized a success, it's just about time to start thinking about next year's event, according to Battle. The Chamber of Commerce will have an evaluation meeting either late this week or early next week to determine what went right, what went wrong and what can be done to make the 24th Tomato Fest bigger and better.
Official planning for the next year kicks off at the end of November.
By Raymond Billy