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Changes to Chile Cheese Festival announced

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In this file photo, vendors selling arts and crafts, chiles, fruit and food participate in the 2016 Chile Cheese Festival. This year, organizers say the event will go forward but with changes. (Christina Stock Photo)

The pandemic continues to affect some of Roswell’s largest annual events, and the Chile Cheese Festival is no exception.

This year’s event will not be the usual public gathering with lots of vendor booths and tours of a local cheese plant, but instead will center primarily on a MainStreet Roswell booth and feature a scavenger-hunt theme to encourage people to visit Roswell’s attractions and businesses.

“We are just now getting the word out to people,” said Kathy Lay, executive director of MainStreet Roswell, which has organized the festival for 29 years. “We are getting businesses signed up to be included in the (scavenger hunt) map.”

The festival also has moved up a few weeks from the end of September to Friday, Sept. 4 and Saturday, Sept. 5.

It will be held at the Chaves County Courthouse lawn on North Main Street and will coincide with the First Friday downtown shopping event Sept. 4 and the Farmers’ and Gardeners’ Market on Sept 5.

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The annual festival promotes the city’s agricultural and dairy festival, and recognizes the impact on the local economy of Xcel Energy, as well as Leprino Food Co., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of mozzarella cheese and the city’s largest private employer.

In prior years, the festival was a large community event attracting hundreds that included chile stew cook-offs, food eating contests, live music performances, arts and crafts and food booths, and guided tours of the Leprino plant, which normally is not open to visitors.

For a couple of years, it also was held in conjunction with the Pinata Fest, a Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce event. That gathering has been postponed indefinitely, said Marcos Nava, executive director of the Hispano Chamber.

The limits on gatherings and the mandates of social distancing still in effect by state public health orders have prompted the changes to this year’s Chile Cheese Festival. Chile stew or salsa recipes from local businesses will replace the cook-offs. Wrapped cheese or food samples and free ice cream will replace the Leprino tours, and the main feature will be the scavenger hunt.

Participating businesses will mark items in their locations that are part of the hunt. Visitors who stop by the businesses and find those items will earn one entry per item in a drawing for a $500 cash prize. Other prizes would be available from sponsors for people who visited 50% to 75% to 100% of businesses.

A similar concept — a passport — was used for the virtual UFO Festival in July to guide people to local businesses, and Lay said it was effective.

“People loved it,” she said, “We have a lot of positive reviews for it, and some of our businesses said that it impacted sales as much as the festival had in previous years.”

Lay said that COVID-safe practices will be followed at the Chile Cheese Festival, including the use of face coverings and social distancing. And MainStreet Roswell will alter plans if needed should public health orders change.

Lay acknowledges that the shift away from large community events has hampered its own revenues, as well as challenged the restaurants, attractions and retailers in the downtown area. But she said that MainStreet and business owners have become creative in generating ideas for how to earn money during the coronavirus crisis.

“We also have been very fortunate or very blessed, depending on how you want to word it, in receiving grants,” she said. She also said sponsors have been supportive.

Current sponsors for the Chile Cheese Festival include Leprino, Xcel Energy, Albertsons Market stores and KBIM.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or reporter02@rdrnews.com.