Sunday September 23, 2012

LEE -- Crowds filled both sides of Main Street in Lee on Saturday, as people stopped by booths from local businesses on the first day of fall to celebrate Lee Founders Weekend Festival, a three-day event filled with live music, samplings from local restaurants, a parade, and even a competition between local fire companies.

The celebration is an annual event that draws hundreds of visitors to downtown Lee, giving local businesses the chance to raise their profiles and town residents and tourists the opportunity to discover more about a community that was incorporated in 1777.

By 1 p.m., the street was filled with people following the popular Hometown Parade that had moved its way down Main Street.

"Oh, this is such a fantastic event," said Becket resident Brenda Haywood, a self-employed distributor for The Pampered Chef, a company that sells kitchenware and cookbooks. While Haywood hadn't attended the event in two years, and doesn't live in the town, she said she feels a close connection to Lee since her children attend its public schools.

"It's just a great moment for people to come together and have fun," Haywood said.

While the sky was threateningly overcast at times, the temperature hovered in the mid-60s all afternoon, making it comfortable for those who strolled along Main Street. A girl's soccer team called out to potential customers to buy pizza, while young children gathered eagerly around a table where a man made balloon animals.

"Hey, looking for these?" asked Doreen Bartini, a volunteer working at a booth outside St. Mary's Catholic Church, as she directed a women to a row of potted chrysanthemums that were being sold to raise money for St. Mary's School.

A Lee resident, Bartini was one of several volunteers selling baked goods along with the flowers.

"The amount of street traffic today is really great," Bartini said. "This is my first time working here at the booth, but I always enjoy being a part of the weekend. It's a lot of fun."

Not everyone was a Founders Weekend regular. Robert J. LaCosta and his wife, Vini Cavaleri, both took part in the parade as festival first-timers. They were using the opportunity to promote their new business in town, hEARt Ear Boutique, a store at 154 W. Park Street that sells affordable hearing aids.

The couple lives in Selkirk, N.Y, but decided to open their business in Lee as a way to provide what LaCosta called a "much-needed service to the town."

"This event has been so fantastic because it's been able to bring us name recognition," LaCosta said.

LaCosta and Cavaleri's booth was stationed outside the First Congregational Church of Lee, which was open for visitors.

Tessa Baldwin, 5, back, Leo Kavanaugh, 7, center, and Zevulin Laska, 7, fight for candy on the street during the parade.
Tessa Baldwin, 5, back, Leo Kavanaugh, 7, center, and Zevulin Laska, 7, fight for candy on the street during the parade. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
The church tour was an indoor activity that not many took advantage of given the nice weather, said Tim Martin, a church deacon who guided visitors through the building all day.

Martin moved to Lee 10 years ago after he got married at the church, and said there is a unique quality to the weekend festival that is unlike what can be found in most towns.

"Lee is a great town in that it is small enough for you to be comfortable here, but large enough where things like this can happen," Martin said.

LaCosta said it is an event he'll attend again in the future.

"This is the quintessential New England town," LaCosta said. "It's a very friendly place, and it's a great feeling to be a part of something like this."

Today's events begin at 8 a.m. with the Kiwanis Annual Pancake Breakfast at St. Mary's School, and conclude at 2 p.m. with a performance by The Eagles Band at the Spectrum Playhouse.