People visit Hammonton for many reasons, among them the city’s vibrant downtown and its world-renowned blueberries — or, as was the case Sunday, to watch elite athletic competition.
Visitors to the Blueberry Capital of the World got to enjoy all three Sunday as the annual Red White and Blueberry Festival coincided with the first-ever Challenge Atlantic City Triathlon, which looped through the city’s downtown before its return leg to Atlantic City.
While the triathlon was a draw for many, longtime festival vendor Ken Ingalls said it’s something else that keeps him coming back every year.
“Personally? The turnovers,” said the Little House of Candles owner, now in his ninth year at the festival. “It’s a nice show. You get a good crowd. The cars are nice, but really we come here because this weekend there aren’t a lot of shows, and this is the best one out there.”
The annual festival, held now at Hammonton High School, began in 1987 as a component of the Atlantic County sesquicentennial celebration and snowballed from there. Originally, the festival featured about 20 vendors and a few food stalls. Now, it has 60 crafters, 20 food vendors, dozens of classic cars and kiddie rides.
In its 28th year, the festival draws thousands with its mix of crafts, cars and blueberry-themed treats.
“People come from all over,” said Lisajo Carrigan, owner of Hammonton candy store Sassy Sweets. “We have customers coming from Atlantic City. We had a woman say she drove an hour to get here, so it obviously does attract many people.”
Joe Burger brought his wife, Lisa, and son, Anthony, down from Forked River, Lacey Township, for the day.
“Anthony here is just crazy about blueberries,” he said, gesturing to his son, who was enjoying a bowl of Sassy Sweets’ blueberry ice cream. “This is what, our third year here? It goes on the calendar as soon as they announce it.”
Downtown, hundreds of people lined 12th Street to watch the competitors zip by on their bikes.
Mexican restaurant El Mariachi Loco, on the corner of 12th Street and Railroad Avenue, had prime real estate for catching the triathlon crowd. Owner Roberto Diaz worked in front of the restaurant, blending fresh pina coladas and serving them in cored pineapples. The cool drinks proved popular on the hot day, as the restaurateur sold 20 in as many minutes after opening late-morning. He expected to run through his supply of 300 pineapples by the day’s end.
Diaz praised town leaders.
“This beautiful day, this beautiful township,” he said. “With all the special (events) they’re doing here, I think that no one is doing it like this town. This is No. 1. I love it. I love this town.”
Jennifer Maynard, of Flanders, leaned on the railing outside El Mariachi Loco as she waited for her husband, Jan Maynard, to bike by. She, her husband and her mother-in-law arrived in Atlantic City Saturday in preparation for the race.
Maynard said she was looking forward to gambling Sunday night, if her husband felt up to it. Regardless of luck — at the slots or on the course — the weekend was a win.
“We’ve never been to Atlantic City, and it has been fun,” she said. “Being out here (in Hammonton) in a smaller area is also very nice.”
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