WATERVILLE — For the 21st consecutive year, downtown Waterville was turned inside-out Wednesday for the annual Taste of Greater Waterville, with thousands of patrons packing the streets and dozens of restaurants lining the sidewalks with serving trays and paper goods.

The event prospered amid picture-perfect weather, with sunshine throughout the day and a slight breeze accompanying the rays.

“I have been pleasantly surprised at how smooth it has gone, especially the weather,” said Amy Sylvester, spokeswoman for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the annual event. “I didn’t know what we did to get such a nice day, but I’m thankful.”

Just two hours into the Taste, Appleton Street and the Concourse were lined with vendors and patrons, taking in the finger food and sunny skies.

“We drove two hours to come over here,” said Rick Lajoie, who is staying at his summer home with his wife in Eustis. “We saw this on the news and figured we’d check it out. We had a beautiful ride all the way up.”

Roughly 100 to150 people were buying and eating a variety of pizza, french fries, fudge, fried dough, cotton candy and other fair food while walking around and checking out the sidewalk sales and children’s attractions.

“I grew up in Oakland, so I’ve been coming to this a long time,” said Amy McClary, who was having lunch with her husband, Tim, and two girls, Anna, 3, and Grace, 15 months.

“We’ll hang out for a couple of hours, get some food first, wear the kids out and then they take a nap,” Tim McClary said, adding that a babysitter is lined up so the two could go to the beer tent in the evening.

While the Bite portion of the event continued on through the evening, more than a dozen restaurants lined Main Street and tables and chairs took over parking spaces as thousands of patrons snacked on cannoli, lobster rolls, stuffed shells, barbecue and more. A little after 5 p.m., bluegrass band Tricky Britches took to the stage in the beer tent. A handful of accoustic acts set up throughout the Taste, which stretched down to Silver Street, up through Appleton Street and into the Concourse.

One of the additions to the event reached back to the beginning days of the Taste, with an “elegant dining” opportunity. Heritage House Restaurant in Skowhegan was the only restaurant to partake, with roughly 65 guests relaxing with a four-course meal.

“We’ve got around 50 pounds of fillets,” said Rob McGowan, head chef at Heritage House Restaurant, who was enjoying the time outdoors — rare for a chef.

“I call this work release,” he said. “You get out from behind the same four walls and you get to see everyone.”

Sylvester said the turnout of vendors exceeded past years, with more businesses hoping to capitalize on the publicity opportunity. Around two dozen businesses set up tents and stands, almost doubling the total from three years ago. 

“There’s been a steady growth in vendors just because every year there’s more buzz about the event,” she said. “Small businesses want to get in on that.”

Sylvester said it’s hard to calculate how many guests show up throughout the day, because there are multiple entrances and no tickets are sold. She did say the turnout seems comparable to that of previous years at the event, during which 6,000 to 10,000 people stroll through downtown Waterville.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
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