Connecticut is celebrating its maritime heritage this weekend with the Schooner Festival in New London. The brand-new event hopes to attract thousands of people from around the region, and provide a showcase for local companies.
The Fishers Island Ferry prepares to sail from its terminal in New London. She'll have some company today, as 20 schooners, sturdy, sleek and fast sailing vessels with a long history in Connecticut, arrive in the Thames River.
"Our primary goal was to promote Connecticut's history and maritime heritage, but we're also promoting its spirit of innovation," says Bruce MacDonald, one of the organizers. In addition to a lighted boat parade, races, and sailing opportunities, there will be plenty of shore based-activities. "All along waterfront park, the city in recent years has upgraded the park. It's a beautiful location. We've got a city pier, floating docks, a mooring field."
This will be the venue for a Made in Connecticut Expo, featuring eleven different Connecticut small businesses. "Most people are aware of the major corporations that employ people and make products here, from Electric Boat across the river here to the Pratt & Whitney's of this world," says MacDonald, "but the smaller companies that exist almost in their shadow are equally important to this state."
Among the stalls will be Barbara Ford's Connfetti -- a business that specializes in selling goods manufactured in Connecticut. Ford used to have a storefront in New London, but that closed earlier this year, and she says the high traffic she gets at events like this is more cost effective. "People want to give gifts that are locally made," Ford says, "and people coming from out of town to visit the area. They like to stop in and pick up something made in Connecticut to take home."
And to Ford, promoting goods still made here in the state is also all about employment: "I think because I just wanted to make people aware that Connecticut made products support people, they pay bills, they really can drive the economy if people shop locally and shop locally made products."
SchoonerFest began in Mystic on Wednesday, and lasts through the weekend in New London.