For the crowds of visitors to the Saugatuck section of town Saturday, there was a flavor of the revitalized neighborhood to suit nearly every taste.
The 2nd annual Slice of Saugatuck Festival brought music, shopping and a melange of delicious morsels to a multitude of more-than-eager mouths. People from throughout the area discovered and rediscovered the wide variety of restaurants and retail shops the neighborhood now offers. And, in the process, the visitors raised substantial money to support the Gillespie Center's food pantry.
"It's a win-win," said Matthew Mandell, the Representative Town Meeting member who organized the festival. "Food for those who come to the festival and food for those who can't afford any."
Another important aim of the festival is to emphasize the vitality of the Saugatuck neighborhood, and to introduce it to people who may not know about it and how it has evolved as a dining and speciality shopping enclave over the last few years.
"People kept saying we were losing business to Fairfield and Norwalk," Mandell said. "They just didn't know what we had right in our own backyard."
"Saugatuck is a unique place that people should frequent," he said, and acknowledging the neighborhood's heritage, added the he hopes people also cherish and "protect the charm that makes it what it is."
"I love it," Soozi Folsom, owner of the Mansion Clamhouse, said of the festival. "I think it's grand. It just brings people out."
"Saugatuck was dead for many years," she said, "and it's just nice to have people back in the neighborhood to show them it's alive again."
"We're growing down here," Anthony Kusselmark, general manager of Rizzuto's restaurant, concurred.
He said the festival was great for the neighborhood. "Matthew's doing a great job down here," he said.
"There are now 48 merchants involved, compared to last year's 36," Mandell said. As evidence of that wide variety of vendors, the event showcased everything from gold balloons and dry cleaning, to Indian cuisine and sausage-and-pepper sandwiches.
"The new restaurants seem to keep popping up," observed Carlton Byrd of Westport, who was enjoying the variety of food samples.
"This is our second year coming," he said, "and it's a beautiful day."