Last weekend a large crowd squeezed into a little downtown park and surrounding space next to the Blennerhassett Hotel for the ninth annual Taste of Parkersburg. By all accounts, everyone had a marvelous time enjoying local food, beer, wine and jazz. While I didn't personally visit with everybody, I did get to talk to several hundred folks attending.
My goal in this article is not to sing the praises of the Taste of Parkersburg event. While the efforts of Downtown PKB's Executive Director, Carrie Nesselrode, and her army of 150 wonderful helpers is truly worthy of praise, right now I want to consider why the T.O.P. is so popular.
To get the obvious reasons out of the way, let's all agree that when a group gets together, then adds in magnificent food from local restaurants, dozens of wonderful micro-brews and wines, superb jazz music, and perfect weekend weather, you have a good start toward a successful event.
My mother told me the recipe for a great party is to stir together good food, good drinks, and good friends, and then make sure you don't run out of any of those things. Simple, but spot on.
However, I think there's more to the T.O.P.'s formula for success than first meets the eye, and I'm convinced this formula may be the key to the success of revitalizing downtown Parkersburg.
I'm amazed at how some people really dress up for a party in a parking lot; especially lovely young ladies. The T.O.P. organizers never planned for a dress code. They do require shirts and shoes, but not much beyond that. But there's a reason people dress up, and I think I know why.
People going to T.O.P. are going to a celebration, and when you go to a celebration, you dress up.
So exactly what are they celebrating? Well, their culture; or at least what they want their culture to be. Local food, gathering with friends, and enjoying each other in the midst of a well-planned evening, allows people to share their collective pleasures and experiences. Actually, it's a big backyard party with 3,000 neighbors.
That, my friends, is exactly what a vibrant downtown is, and that's why I love it. I leave my compartmental existence, and come into contact with my friends and neighbors at every street corner, lunch counter, bank window, business appointment, doctor visit, City Hall, Court House, or local shop.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Downtown is a neighborhood like no other. It's a neighborhood that is diverse enough to define its inhabitants. That's why archaeologists study ancient downtowns. We can all learn more about each other by living in the center of our community than we can by staying on the outer edges of it.
People enjoy the Taste of Parkersburg because they're proud of it. And they should be. It's a celebration of who they are. And when it comes to celebrations, I want to be in the middle of them. That's where the action is.
Come see me. I'll be in the lounge.
Cecil Childress is General Manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel and Chairman of Downtown PKB.