Jack-’o-lanterns lined Main Street in downtown Laconia for Pumpkin Festival last year. (Karen Bobotas/file photo)
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival likely will stimulate hundreds of thousands of dollars in business activity for the Lakes Region, but its value goes far beyond that, said its main organizer.
More than 40,000 people are expected at the event Oct. 13-14, so this will be an invaluable chance to showcase all the region has to offer, from the beauty of fall foliage to local wares and cuisine.
This kind of exposure could in turn lead to increased business opportunities down the road in the form of repeat visits, purchases and investments, said Karmen Gifford, executive director of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and the festival organizer.
“It's great for business,” Gifford said. “Our mission for the festival is that it's a chance to celebrate fall. People come from Texas, Florida, Europe. They don't get fall foliage. It's a special time of year that we sometimes take for granted.
“This is a community-hosted family-friendly celebration of what's unique about New Hampshire. There is a lot of culture at the festival this year, musical entertainment, performers, a horse-drawn hay ride.”
This is the third year Laconia has hosted the festival, which started in Keene in 1991, where it grew from a small community celebration to a fall event that attracted crowds from far and wide.
The Keene City Council denied organizers a permit in 2015 after riots occurred at the event a year before around Keene State College.
Event organizers, operating as the nonprofit Let It Shine, moved to Laconia in 2015. The chamber took it over in 2016.
Gifford said that when the festival was held in Keene, it stimulated an estimated $300,000 in business activity. She expects the festival now brings that much money to the Lakes Region, including meals, drinks, hotel rooms and other purchases.
It costs more than $100,000 to stage the festival. Those costs arise from insurance, equipment and city expense, among other things, and are offset by sponsorships, vendor payments and money collected from festival activities.
The main emphasis, of course, is the pumpkin. The goal this year is to gather 20,000 pumpkins, which would be a local record but still well short of the record of more than 30,000 in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Amassing more pumpkins is one reason the festival was expanded to two days.
“The philosophy was we wanted people to be able to come down Friday to drop off their pumpkins,” Gifford said.
A tower containing 1,000 pumpkins will be assembled.
A total of 10,000 pumpkin seed packets were given to school children and others. Local nurseries also provided free starter pumpkin plants.
Jay Bolduc, general manager of T-Bones Great American Eatery and Cactus Jack's Grill and Watering Hole in Laconia, said the festival helps extend the tourist season beyond its traditional end at Columbus Day, Oct. 9.
“It's hugely important,” Bolduc said. “Anytime we can sort of extend the visitor season, it's good.
“Columbus Day often signifies the end of the fall tourism season, but for the last two years, the turnout for festival week has been great.”
As it is, with the recent hot weather, his restaurant has been doing well this season, maximizing outdoor seating in pleasant, warm evenings.
The restaurant will have a food booth at the festival, allowing people to experience what his restaurant has to offer.
There are seasonal offerings on the menu, as befits a fall festival.
“We will have pumpkin and butternut squash lasagna, pepita chicken and pumpkin pie,” Bolduc said.
Even the area's livestock will benefit from the festival and its thousands of Jack-o-lanterns.
“Some go to farmers and will be given to pigs and cattle,” Gifford said. “We work with the city Public Works Department and try for sustainability.”