Grass to be rolled out for Middlebury block party


A PORTION OF Main Street in Middlebury was closed last August for the town’s second annual Block Party, during which kids of all ages played lawn games on sod that was rolled out across the Battell Bridge. Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

LOOK FOR THE return of the sod, and the fun and deals for shoppers, at the annual Block Party next Wednesday. Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s Main Street will temporarily transform from a busy asphalt artery to a verdant sod playground for a three-hour period on Wednesday, Aug. 14, during which visitors will be able to play with giant dice, take a flying leap at a Velcro wall, eat good food, take advantage of discounts at local stores, and even submerge their favorite public official in a tankful of water.

We’re talking about the third annual Downtown Summer Block Party, designed as both a three-hour showcase of what downtown Middlebury has to offer, as well as a community building event while construction resumes on a three-year, $72.5 million rail bridges project.

A lot of the attractions will be free, courtesy of a grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation and food donations from Middlebury College. Volunteers are also stepping up to install and remove the temporary sod and other elements of the block party, which will run from 5 to 8 p.m.

“I think it’s going to be one of our best block parties yet, and I’m excited about it,” said Karen Duguay, executive director of the Better Middlebury Partnership, which is organizing the event with the citizens group Neighbors Together.

Duguay noted some new features this year that are bound to be attention-grabbers.

For example, the Mad Taco Restaurant will serve as a food vendor, complete with beer garden area. As recently reported by the Independent, Mad Taco will soon open a restaurant in the Stone Mill building in Middlebury’s Frog Hollow.

Also new this year: The Evolution Kitchen food van will hold court at the small courtyard next to the Town Hall Theater on Merchants Row. The “Dairy Fairy,” aka Lisa Mitchell, will offer gelato treats. Bristol’s Bobcat Café will also be on hand with its popular food offerings. Organizers want to make sure the attractions spill over to the Town Hall Theater in order to encourage people to check out Merchants Row and stores like Kiss the Cook.

Luke White, owner of Kiss the Cook, said last year’s block party was good for business and he’s excited about the 2019 edition. The store will launch its summer sale to coincide with the party, and there will be other deals for shoppers.

“It’s a nice reminder of how vibrant the downtown can be,” he said of the event.

Kiss the Cook won’t be alone in rolling out the red carpet for shoppers.

“A lot of businesses are running some really great deals and discounts, and several businesses will have tastings as well,” Duguay said.

If you’re short on cash, free popcorn, cotton candy and snow cones will be available. The college has donated hot dogs and veggie burgers that will be cooked up by volunteers and passed out gratis, though donations will be gratefully accepted for the Middlebury Fire Department.

Eat up for strength to take aim at the “dunk booth.” For a nominal per-ball fee that will be donated to the Middlebury Parks & Recreation scholarship fund, throwers will be able to send local “celebrities” plunging into a tank of cold water. Among those who have agreed to take the plunge: Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay and town Director of Operations Bill Kernan. Have you lingered in a downtown parking spot too long and received a ticket? Well, local parking ambassador Jodi Covey will also be braving the dunk tank.

The temporary sod will extend on Main Street from Mill Street to the end of the Battell Bridge. The soft, grassy platform will provide a unique opportunity for people to play on the main drag sans traffic. And play they will, with massive Jenga, Connect 4, blue foam blocks and other props.

Organizers are of course hoping area businesses will reap economic benefits from the block party. Last year’s edition — which was shortened by 45 minutes due to a thunderstorm — yielded more than $20,000 in economic benefits for local merchants, according to Duguay.

“We’re hoping to crush that (figure) this year,” she said.

Officials will be able to track the economic impacts, in large part through a raffle. Those who spend at least $20 at downtown businesses that evening can bring their receipts to Bundle at 60 Main St. to enter to win prizes, all purchased from area merchants and valued at approximately $100 each, according to Duguay. The raffle drawing is set for 7:30 p.m.

Other block party amenities: A Middlebury Indoor Tennis demo, balloon animals and face painting. The Horse Traders musical ensemble will perform from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“We’re very focused on this being a local event,” Duguay said. “It’s very much a celebration of our local community … It’s awesome to look down the street and feel you know half the people.”

That community spirit was in large supply at last year’s block party. When storm clouds began to gather, many folks — some dressed in white clothing — dropped to the ground to help roll up the sod from Main Street, Duguay recalled.

“To me, it was, ‘This is Middlebury; this is why I love this community and this particular event,’” she recalled of folks spontaneously helping out. “It just embodies that sense of community I feel so strongly here. The block party has become my favorite downtown event because of that.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

More block party volunteers are needed. If you are able to lend a hand, email Karen Duguay at [email protected].

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