By Mary Spicer
She’s attended at least the last six celebrations of A Taste of Meadville in the plaza surrounding downtown Meadville’s historic Market House, but Tuesday night was a whole new experience for Betsy Sperry. As owner of the newly-opened Vacavi Cafe in Conneaut Lake, she was on the other side of the table this time around.
Conversation-inducing round tables covered in deep red-orange and topped with flower arrangements featuring fanciful birdhouses greeted the crowd of approximately 300 that gathered in Market Square for an evening of food, music, conversation and, of course, support for the Market House.
And then there was the food.
From appetizers to entrees to desserts to beverages to snacks, the Market House was encircled with treats for every taste, served with smiles and lots of encouragement to try something new.
From the serving side, “It was a lot of fun, I’ll tell you,” Sperry said. “It’s fun because I got to work with my husband (co-owner Jason) doing it — and my mom was there and his mom was there and it was a wonderful multi-generational evening.”
It was also fun meeting so many people, she added.
“Lots of people stopped by to say, ‘Hello.’ I was really nervous, never having done it before, but we got lots of positive introductions. It was fun to be on the other side.”
On the eating, listening to music, engaging in conversation with friends side, it was hard to find anyone not sporting a smile.
“It’s something people look forward to,” said Meadville resident Ann Areson, who was enjoying the evening with friends. Aside from being a fun night out, she said it’s an opportunity to support the Market House.
“Alice has done a great job,” she said, referring to Market Master Alice Sjolander.
“We love the Market House,” agreed Lynn McUmber. “This was a wonderful event. Wonderful.”
Proceeds from the evening are earmarked for capital improvements and major maintenance items — two categories not included in the facility’s $280,000 annual budget.
For Sue Wycoff, a regular “Taste” attendee since returning to the area in 2009, “It’s a really great event to showcase community businesses.”
Sperry couldn’t agree more.
“It was really great exposure, especially with us being from Conneaut Lake,” she said. Although she grew up in Meadville, “People in Meadville think Conneaut Lake’s so far away,” she added. “For us, this was huge. It was a big exposure event for us.”
For Lisa Pepicelli, it’s all about community.
“I love the event,” she said. “It’s everybody getting together — a community-centered kind of thing.”
The event has a history of drawing the community together even under the most difficult circumstances. In fact, the Taste of Meadville of Sept. 11, 2001, was a night that Areson says she’ll never forget. Beginning at 5 p.m., the community gathered on Market Square — in part to support the Market House but mainly because coming together as the sun set on that nightmare day seemed to be the only thing to do.
The final tally of participants won’t be available until all the bills are in, but committee members agreed that a grand evening had been had by all.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.