WINCHESTER — In upcoming years, a dollar might be all organizers of the Winchester Pickle Festival need from the town. That’s the amount selectmen had allocated to the annual event last year, before town meeting voters approved a $3,999 boost. And now the Pickle Festival’s new organizer aims to make the event self-sustaining in the years to come.
The annual briny bash was at a crossroads earlier this year after Roberta A. Fraser, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, stepped down from her position as one of the main organizers during a Feb. 3 meeting. She had been in charge of the festival’s committee for 13 years.
“I’m a single mother of three going to school full-time and working. The festival is a lot of work, and I just can’t do it anymore,” she said during the meeting.
After Fraser made her announcement, the selectmen provided $1 of funding for the annual event. Local officials agreed to commit only to that amount until someone else stepped up to take Fraser’s place.
But Richard Horton, head of the local group Winchester Proud, said he decided to help continue the bread and butter of the event — bringing people in to see what the town and its residents have to offer.
“It’s important for our kids to have something that the community comes together for,” Horton said.
The group got the OK for the festival in March, when voters approved a warrant article to provide $4,000 in funding for the event, which is in its 17th year.
He said his goal is to make the festival self-funded — needing no financial support from the town — within the next three years.
This year is a good indication that it’s possible to do that, he said.
Organizers will raise money to fund the event through a variety of sources, according to Horton: vendor fees, sponsorship, donations and memorabilia sales.
The festival will be held in downtown Saturday starting at 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Already, Horton said he’s expecting the festival to be full of flavorful offerings. More than 50 vendors have signed up to participate in the festival, Horton said.
“Vendor-wise, we’re maxed out,” he said. “That’s one tell-tale sign of the success of the festival.”
Horton said he’s unsure how many vendors have been at other festivals, but estimates this year’s number is a little bit higher than previous ones. He said there’s also been an increase in new vendors coming to partake in the event.
Attendees will be able to enjoy live entertainment, kids’ activities, crafts and — of course — pickles.
Festival goers will also get a free pickle spear. Horton said organizers ordered 7,000 of them — nearly double the number they had last year — just to make sure they don’t run out.
“I would expect a minimum of 5,000 people this year,” he said.
Attendees come not just from the Monadnock area, but from surrounding states as well, according to Horton. This has made the festival a vital part of the town because it brings visitors who might otherwise pass through Winchester on their way to Massachusetts or Vermont, he said.
Winchester resident Gary O’Neal started the festival nearly two decades ago. When Horton asked him why he started the festival all those years ago, his answer was simple.
“He said to me, ‘Nobody else is doing it,’ “ Horton said. “He wanted something that could really showcase our talents and it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Mr. Pickle himself will be there as well, despite a minor setback.
“There was a little bit of a worry that he couldn’t find his pickle suit,” Horton said.
New Hampshire Rep. Henry A. L. Parkhurst, D-Winchester, as he’s more commonly known, has played the pickle mascot for more than 15 years. Each year, Parkhurst dusts off his green suit and puts on his matching top-hat to march through the streets.
Parkhurst, too, has said the festival’s a great way to showcase Winchester and all that is done by its residents.
“This is community support of the highest order,” he told The Sentinel at last year’s festival.
As the event continues to grow, Horton said he looks forward to seeing it spread throughout Winchester. He hopes to expand the festival beyond its footprint downtown.
“We’re bursting at the seams and I think, in the future years, you’ll see us expand and create more venues in town,” Horton said.
“It would make it kind of like an old home day.”
Melissa Proulx can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MProulxKS.