Saturday was the 12th annual Chocolate & Candy Festival in downtown Bel Air, but for several Harford County families, it was their first time making their way around the floor of the Bel Air Reckord Armory, sampling various local vendors' sweet treats.
"Now, after being here I know about the different bakeries that are in the area, which is kind of nice," Melissa Kauffman of Joppa said.
Kauffman came to the festival with her husband, John, and 8-year-old twin sons, James and Jonathan, plus the boys' aunt and uncle, Damon and Melinda Dunmire of Essex.
"It's been great," Damon Dunmire said. "When have you not had a good time, feasting on all this candy?"
Kauffman said it can sometimes be difficult to find activities for children during the wintertime and called Saturday's festival "a nice, fun, different thing for the family to do."
Fifteen chocolate and candy vendors were there for the festival, which is organized by the Bel Air Downtown Alliance.
The Chocolate & Candy Festival is a major annual fundraiser for the Downtown Alliance and serves as a kickoff to its spring and summer festivals.
The first three of five "Hearts of Harford" sculptures were also unveiled Saturday. The heart-shaped sculptures, painted with various themes of Harford County and Maryland, created by local artists and sponsored by area businesses, are a joint public art project between the town of Bel Air and the Downtown Alliance.
The sculptures were stationed at the entrance of the armory, greeting festival visitors with their bright colors on an overcast day, that eventually turned sunny. As is typical with Saturday's festival and other big events at the armory, parking spaces were at a premium along Main Street for several blocks in both directions.
A Dr. Seuss theme was adopted for the festival, since Saturday was the late children's author's birthday. Several volunteers were dressed as Seuss' iconic character, the Cat in the Hat.
"It's been a great crowd since we opened the doors," Angela Rose, events and promotions coordinator for the Downtown Alliance, said.
Visitors could sample and purchase chocolate treats, cupcakes, Italian ice, ice cream and more from the vendors, who were a mix of returning and new vendors, according to festival organizers.
One veteran vendor, Moore's Candies of Baltimore – its products are sold in Bel Air – offered chocolate turtles and other delights.
Stacey Poe, daughter of owner Jim Heyl, spoke to The Aegis as her father helped visitors to their vendor's table.
She said "the hospitality, and just the atmosphere," of the festival is what has kept Moore's with the event for all 12 years.
Samantha Dixon, 20, and her mother, Jennifer Keck, both of Aberdeen, were also first-time visitors. They sampled treats from Moore's, and also held cupcakes from another festival vendor, Sweet Devotion of Havre de Grace.
"I think it's awesome," Dixon said. "It's good for the community; it brings everyone together, I mean this place is pretty packed."
Deanna Moffett of Abingdon made her first trip to the festival Saturday, with her 3-year-old daughter, Ava, and 8-month-old son, Liam, in tow. Her mother, Nancy Stevens of Bel Air, was also along for the ride.
"We love chocolate, so it's perfect," Moffett said.
Littla Ava bopped to popular music being played over loudspeakers.
"She wants to do the hula hoop again," her mother said, referring to the children's activity area, where little ones could make arts and crafts, use hula hoops and take part in many other activities.
"I think it's a nice winter event for the family," Stevens said.
"Fantastic, great turnout," Scott Walker, executive director of the Downtown Alliance said, when asked how he thought the festival was going.
He said Saturday's attendance "may beat last year," speaking about halfway through the five-hour event. Walker said 1,800 "paid attendees," which did not include the young children admitted for free, came last year, and he expected to meet and beat that number Saturday.
"We started with a line at the door," he said.
Walker also praised the members of the local AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps team who staffed the children's area.
The NCCC volunteers, who Walker said "have been a godsend to us," had assisted with the festival for several years. The NCCC is one of many paid volunteer national service programs under the federal AmeriCorps umbrella.
On Saturday, 12 members of the team were staffing the children's activity area, which was sponsored by the Bel Air Athletic Club and APG Federal Credit Union.
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"That's what we're here to do, put some smiles on some faces," Joshua "Rico" Hernandez, point of contact for the team, said.