Scott Walker started his term of service as executive director of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance focused on the annual Chocolate and Candy Festival, and he ends his term four-and-a-half years later with the festival.
"This is my first event, and it'll be my last event, so I've completed the circle," he joked Saturday as he looked over the crowd of people enjoying the 13th annual Chocolate and Candy Festival at the Bel Air Reckord Armory.
He noted his first meeting when he started in November 2009 was related to the festival.
"We're going to end up in the 1,800 to 2,000 range for sure," he said as an estimate for Saturday's attendance.
"It's the last hour and a half and we still have a good flow going," Walker said around 1:30 p.m.
His last day with the alliance will be April 1; he will then go to work as director of development and training for MaGerks Pub & Grill.
The alliance is a non-profit organization responsible for promoting events and businesses in downtown Bel Air; the Chocolate and Candy Festival is one of its major events each year, along with the summer Maryland State BBQ Bash and First Fridays.
"All we do is turn around and reinvest it into promoting downtown Bel Air," Walker said of funds raised from events such as the chocolate festival.
Walker praised his staff, board members and Bel Air business owners for their support of the downtown and noted many new businesses have arrived during the past four years despite the economic downturn.
"We've weathered the storm and been able to attract a lot of new businesses to our downtown, which I think says a lot for our community," he said.
Festival attendees paid $5 at the door and received four free sample tickets. Children could decorate white paper bags at a table marked with a sign reading "Candy Cane Lane," and designate them as their candy bags.
"He's just been constantly putting [samples] in there, so he's been having a lot of fun," Gina Sabo, of Abingdon, said of her 4-year-old son, Danny, and his candy bag.
Sabo, her husband, Jonathan, and Danny were attending their first Chocolate and Candy Festival Saturday.
Jonathan said he heard about it on the news and "thought it would make a nice family outing."
"I didn't realize there were this many chocolatiers and confectioners in the area, so it's kind of eye opening," he said.
Sixteen vendors hailing from the Baltimore metropolitan area offered a variety of sweet treats, including chocolate, candy, Italian ice, ice cream and cupcakes.
Some vendors are veterans of the festival and others were making their first appearance Saturday.
Mark Coulbourne, owner of A Dream of Chocolate of Parkville, said the festival "exceeded our expectations."
"Absolutely, I would certainly do it again," he said when asked if he planned to return next year.. "[It is] a very nice crowd."
Baltimore-based Wockenfuss Candies, which operates a store on Fulford Avenue in Bel Air and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2015, has been a staple of the festival since 2008.
"We like to give our customers samples when we can, and this is a good opportunity to support downtown Bel Air," Linda Bohdel, manager of the Bel Air store, said as she gave out chocolate samples.
Bohdel also gave Walker high praise.
"Scott's great," she said. "He's really up on everything going on in the town of Bel Air; he does his best to promote all the businesses."
Shelley Stannard, owner of Flavor Cupcakery of Bel Air – and winner of the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" in 2011 – was operating a table at the festival along with two helpers.
"It's been great," she said. "It's amazing to see how many people have come out and want to learn about the chocolate and candy that's offered in the community."
Stannard said people "get very excited" about "Cupcake Wars" and ask about the experience she and baker Jason Hisley had on the show.
Hisley owns La Cakerie, which has locations in Towson and Baltimore, and was also a vendor at Saturday's festival.
Angela Rose, events and promotions coordinator with the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, noted "people are gaining awareness" of the festival, which she said is reflected in the number of visitors and vendors from outside Harford County.
"We had people outside waiting at about 9:45 this morning, and it's been steady from the time we opened the door [at 10 a.m.]," she said.
Scott Carver, of Bel Air, watched his daughter, Emily, 8, and son, Aiden, 3, make candy bags. He said they had been coming to the festival since his children were "babies."
"Candy," Emily said when asked about her favorite part of the festival.
Jeff Barbers, of Parkton, came with his 8-year-old son, Russell, and Russell's 12-year-old friend, Isaiah Smith, who also lives in Parkton.
They made what Russell called a "hula hut" out of the many hula hoops children could play with in the middle of the Armory floor.
"They like it," Barbers said of the boys. "It's nice; it's very festive and cheerful and delicious, a good respite from this cold winter."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun