By Gregg MacDonald
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, March 10, 2011; T19
Cities such as Geneva and Hershey, Pa., might be more familiar to chocolate lovers everywhere but, according to council member Daniel F. Drummond, Fairfax City is just as sweet.
"Hershey has nothing on us when it comes to chocolate," Drummond said during the city's 20th annual Chocolate Lovers Festival last weekend. "In addition, we have a more interesting history."
Although the festival's premier attraction is the endless confections, its purpose lies deeper. First staged in 1992, the festival was designed to draw visitors to Old Town Fairfax and help foster cooperation among city government, business owners and residents, according to the festival's Web site. Proceeds from the event are donated to a charity.
Many events also are set up at Fairfax City's landmarks, which allow visitors to learn some history as they feast on the festival's offerings.
"It is a huge economic driver for the downtown," Drummond said. "It also enables visitors to learn about the history of the community."
"We don't really gauge the economic impact for the local merchants in terms of numbers, but many get increased business," said Beverly Myers, chairman of the Chocolate Lovers Festival Committee. "A few years ago, a local Subway restaurant literally ran out of food during the festival."
"The exposure is wonderful," said Andrea Loewenwarter, historic resources specialist for the Fairfax Museum & Visitor Center. "This year, we have seen people from as far away as Mechanicsville and Charlottesville come through the museum."
For residents, the festival provides a way to learn about government services available to them.
At the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, a festival destination within Fairfax City, court officials take advantage of the crowds to provide fingerprinting and identification cards for county children.
"The festival is a great opportunity talk about these services and others provided by the county," said Emily Culbeth, who manned the information booth at the court.
It also is a great opportunity for the chocolate vendors themselves, who set up shop in the city's Old Town Hall. On Saturday, the line to enter the hall stretched down the block.
"We made 3,600 individual servings of chocolate cakes and cookies for the weekend, and we are already tapping into our reserves for tomorrow," vendor Angela Wijas of Fairfax City's Victoria's Cakery said at midday Saturday.
Each year, the festival committee chooses a charitable organization to which a portion of the event's proceeds are donated. Applications for the grant are accepted from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15.
The 2011 grant recipient is the Kiwanis Club of Fairfax. The grant will support the Kiwanis Meals for Young Minds program. Through the program, the Kiwanis purchase food and prepare "food kits" for about 40 city elementary school children who receive free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches at school during the week but often spend weekends hungry. These food kits provide three meals per day for those days when the children are not in school.
"It has been heavy traffic nonstop today," said Friends of Fairfax volunteer Herb Zimmerman, who took participants' money in exchange for festival tickets good for individual tastings.
"We generally take in between $35,000 to $40,000 for the entire festival, so if you figure everyone spends about $5, our festival attendance is roughly between 7,000 to 8,000 people every year," Myers said.