WATERVILLE — It was a risky venture, hosting an elegant, summer outdoor dining experience downtown.

The few businessmen who got together 19 years ago to organize The Taste of Greater Waterville knew what could happen if the weather didn’t cooperate.

But they took a chance and did it anyway.

They bought sheets of plastic to cover everything, including patrons, in case of rain.

“Lo and behold, people got seated and all of a sudden it was showering a bit and then it started to rain,” said Ken Vlodek, an organizer of that first event. “People were holding plastic over their heads. Then, the rain finally passed and the rest of the night was absolutely gorgeous.”

Since then, the event has a popular annual downtown tradition, drawing between 10,000 and 15,000 people from central Maine and beyond to eat, socialize, listen to live music and reconnect with old friends.

Nineteen years ago, Vlodek and a handful of other men were members of the Downtown Businessmen’s Association, which started the festival. Several years later, the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce took over the organizing. Vlodek, owner of Yardgoods Center on The Concourse downtown, has watched the Taste grow and change over the years.

“Right from the beginning — and you still hear a lot of people say this — that even though you live in Waterville 12 months a year, the only time people see each other is at the Taste of Greater Waterville.”

For the first few years, the event featured sit-down meals at long tables lining Main Street and touting white table cloths and flowers. People bought tickets long in advance for their favorite restaurants.

Eventually the theme changed to a more informal setting where, instead of pre-selling tickets, restaurants offered walk-up, a la carte meals and patrons paid as they went and sat at tables on the street.

“The Bite” also was established as part of the Taste, offering lunch booths on Common Street featuring chicken, pizza, sandwiches and other foods.

Castonguay Square next to City Hall on Common Street became a children’s paradise, featuring everything from pony rides to miniature goats, a giant inflatable tiger, face-painting and games. Vendors also sold jewelry and other items.

The Taste continues to evolve, with more changes on tap for this year’s event, according to Kimberly Lindlof, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer.

The Bite is being moved to upper Appleton Street because Castonguay Square has been re-seeded and recently received some new plantings, Lindlof said.

Food booths for The Bite will be set up on that small section of Appleton, between Care & Comfort and The Concourse. Retail vendors will be on the sidewalks of Appleton, according to the chamber’s program assistant, Christian Savage, who is helping to organize events with Robyn Loubier, the chamber’s business development assistant.

Because Castonguay Square is closed, all the children’s events will be on The Concourse, off Silver Street.

Some parking is being displaced because of the changes, but Lindlof said the goal was to make sure locations are safe so children, especially, don’t have to cross streets.

There will be no animals this year, but inflatables for children, including a giant saber-toothed tiger and castle bounce house, will be featured, as well as a new rat race obstacle course

Central Maine Motors is sponsoring another new activity: a live skateboard event on Common Street from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. featuring professional skateboarders and BMX riders, according to Loubier.

“It’s a fun event for the whole family,” she said.

A special van from Kennebec Valley Community College will offer information about weatherization, and Sustain Mid-Maine will host 13 vendors in the basement of Barrel’s community market on Main Street.

Sustain Mid-Maine also is setting up stations where people may compost leftover food and recycle paper products at the day-long event. Lindlof said the amount of trash generated by the Taste is enormous.

United Insurance is providing a free shuttle that will travel from Waterville Senior High School on Brooklyn Avenue to The Concourse and back, every 15 minutes, she said.

The beer garden will remain in the same spot, on The Concourse, across the street from Dress Me Bridal. It opens at 5 p.m.

Main Street will be closed to parking starting at 5 a.m., and to traffic, at 2 p.m. Dance schools and gymnastics groups will perform in Front of the Maine Made & More shop.

The event is held rain or shine. Lindlof said she learned how much people relish the Taste the first time it down-poured on the festivities. Some patrons plan their summer vacations around it.

“People really embrace — they love this event,” she said. “They look forward to it, because they came out in the rain which was bizarre and wonderful.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.