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Celebrating the Charleston community in style

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Clowns, live music, archery lessons, woodworking and more than 2,000 ice cream cones -- Charleston's West Side knows how to celebrate its community in style.

The West Side's 8th-annual Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Social, part of Charleston's FestivALL celebrations, featured free ice cream courtesy of United Dairy, the largest dairy producer in the state, and one of the businesses that calls the West Side its home.

Brenda Ashworth, who organized the event, said it started eight years ago with the community's Main Street program to promote growth on the West Side. West Side Main Street partnered with FestivALL, which now runs the event.

"It started with West Side Main Street, for economic revitalization of the West Side," Ashworth said. "The first year, we might have had about 500 ice cream cones, but it has definitely grown since then."

The event was held at Stonewall Jackson Middle School, and area vendors and groups, including the West Side farmers' market, the West Virginia Bow Hunters Association and the Fountain Hobby Center participated in the celebration.

United Dairy donated 25-gallon tubs of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and sugar-free vanilla ice cream for the day, as well as orange sherbet for a nondairy option.

There was music from the Charleston Metro Band, Coal Train, the Charleston Mountain Mission Youth Choir and the Ritch Collins Three-O. Children got their faces painted, practiced archery and enjoyed a day meant to highlight the vitality of Charleston's West Side.

"We tend to have a negative perception of the West Side, and that's really all that is -- a perception," said Stephanie Johnson, director of West Side Main Street. "Holding events like this helps us combat that perception and lets people know that we do have really great businesses and great opportunities on the West Side."

The West Side Main Street program is part of a national model for community revitalization, and Johnson said the group works closely with the East End Main Street program to foster community growth. WSMS has been planning for this year's ice cream social since January, and it is only one of the initiatives WSMS uses to promote its neighborhoods.

"The mission of our organization is to ensure the existing businesses on the West Side have the resources they need to thrive, as well as to recruit new businesses to the area," Johnson said.

Byron Young, a member of Mountaineer Woodturners, has been crafting items from wood for the ice cream social for several years. He worked his lathe on-site Sunday, making free spinning tops, wine stoppers, French rolling pins and other items.

"It's not costing me much except my time, and I like to make free stuff for the kids to have," Young said. "I just like seeing people enjoy something I've made."

At another FestivALL event on Sunday, chef Sarah Kight was serving up some of her best dishes at Taste-of-All in the Charleston Civic Center.

Kight, who cooks for the Charleston Brewing Co., one of the city's newest restaurants, said she was pleased that her dish, Jamaican Chicken Salad, was chosen as the best of Taste-of-All.

"The dish has pineapple, curry, peppers -- all sorts of different things to make it unique," she said. "Chef Gary Hammond and I first thought it up when we opened the restaurant back in April. We use Peruvian chicken as one of our main dishes, and I use the Peruvian chicken to make the Jamaican chicken salad."

Half of the 21 restaurants in this year's Taste-of-All were new to the event, according to Emily Wall, chairwoman of Taste-of-All Charleston. The event is 31 years old and once was part of Charleston's Regatta Festival, but became part of FestivALL three years ago.

"Taste is a main event of FestivALL," Wall said. "We do it as kind of an economic boost for the community. We hope folks will come here and, if they weren't sure or weren't aware of a restaurant, they can go and spend $2 and try them out. What we're hoping is that people get to experience restaurants they haven't in the past, and want to go there and actually visit the establishment."

There were 21 restaurants and businesses at the event, including: Ridge View Barbeque, Huntington Prime Penthouse and Piano Bar, Mrs. Groovy's Catering and Café, Little India, I Rise Soul Food Café, 5 Corners Café, A Taste of N'Awlins, BrickSalt Bar Kitchen, Zul's Frozen Lemonade, Huskey's Dairy Bar, Distinctive Gourmet, Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream, Berry Hills Country Club, Quarry manor Senior Living, Athletic Club, Mayberry's Restaurant, Kroger, Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille and Mardi Gras Casino and Resort.

FestivALL is an annual celebration that sponsors visual arts, music, theater, dance and film events for more than a week each summer. Major events for this year's FestivALL include productions by the Charleston Light Opera Guild, Mountain Stage, riverboat rides, the Smoke on the Water Chili Cook-Off, Dance Gala, The Mayor's Concert, Blues, Brews & BBQ, and Wine & All That Jazz. For more information, including a schedule of events, visit www.festivallcharleston.com.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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