Groups holding chocolate-collecting paper bags strolled amidst downtown Fairhaven this Saturday, lighting the local shops abuzz with laughter and conversation as businesses invited the community into their balloon-strung doors during Fairhaven’s first Annual Chocolate Walk.
The Fairhaven Association hosted a new annual event on Saturday Feb.12 for Valentine’s Day, where participants took to the streets to collect different types of chocolates made by Sweet Bellingham, Evolve Chocolate and Cafe, Jcoco and Barru.
Executive director of the Fairhaven Association Scott Ward said the event had unusually steady sales from when ticket sales first opened to 200 attendees on Dec. 15, 2021 to when they sold out on Wednesday Feb. 9.
Ward, who manages and operates the day-to-day workings of the association, said he expected the event to be popular because not many events are hosted in February and the magnetic draw of historic Fairhaven charms the community into getting involved in things like the chocolate walk.
One of the chocolate walk attendees, Shanna Sampson, said she was excited to participate in the event.
“It just looked so fun,” Sampson said. “Fairhaven is so cute, and who doesn’t love chocolate!”
The chocolate walk ran from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., inviting participants to enjoy 19 businesses as they collected chocolates from each and savored the beauties of Fairhaven during their stroll through the historical district.
The event sprung from an idea the owner of Bella Rose Bath & Beauty Boutique, Kimberly Hoctor, proposed after she had experienced a chocolate walk in a different city. To try to capture the essence of the village, the Fairhaven Association aims to encourage the public to get involved in volunteering or becoming a member.
“I love it when people bring forth ideas about things that could happen or how they can participate in a way that we aren't already participating,” Ward said. “We’re here to really support the community and celebrate what it is to be here, live, work and play in Fairhaven.”
The Fairhaven Association aspires to host events every month to support businesses in the village and grow the community closer. One of the co-owner at a chocolate collecting stop in Bella Rose Bath & Beauty Boutique Tom Hoctor said he thinks the chocolate walk is a great way to bring people to the community.
“When we can invite people into those spaces, there’s suddenly a connection made, and that really is what promotes the businesses in the strongest, most successful way,” Ward said. “And you know, chocolate obviously does that, right? There's something about chocolate that just feels passionate in a way.”
Self-proclaimed chocoholic Laurie Manning, 66, who’s new to the area, participated in the event on Saturday.
Manning said she had visited a few businesses that she’d never been into until the chocolate walk.
“Part of the walk is to discover new businesses,” Manning said. “I think it’s an excellent way to do this.”
Sharing businesses with the community also offered the chance for local shops to highlight their sweet treats with the chocolate walkers. Owner of Sweet Bellingham Matt Babick said he takes pride in the baker's creativity in the shop, particularly with their special marshmallow chocolates, caramel apples and one-of-a-kind confectionery treats like their cupcake pinata.
Sweet Bellingham aims to provide uniqueness and custom treats with the public. The shop sells baking supplies, makes custom cakes and teaches cake decoration.
A free sample from the shop quickly hooks ambling bystanders into waltzing within a world of mouth-watering salty sweet aromas and entices the Valentine's Day weekend walkers into stopping by to grab a little slice of Sweet Bellingham.
Western Washington University third-year and Lead Baker for Sweet Bellingham Grace Valdez, 21, said they have really interestings treats at the shop that aren’t offered anywhere else.
The process of making chocolates and treats is very precise, she said. Deciding on chocolate molds, getting the fillings to the perfect consistency and the process of making those can be tricky. She added that boiling down the chocolate wafers needs to be at just the right temperature, or it can become problematic to the treat making process.
“We get this thing called elephant skinning, where the top is really wrinkly when we dip stuff in it,” Valdez said. “Or if we make errors, the chocolate can burn too.”
The chocolate walk gave the shop an avenue to engage the public in welcoming them into experiencing Sweet Bellingham and what they do there.
“It's not rocket science, but a precise waterfront of so many moving parts,” Babick said. “And people see that, the precision of the treats, how we give out the samples, everything we do we like to reflect elegance and precision about us. And that leads to just having a super unique and rich experience in a super unique location.”
48-year-old Chef and owner of Evolve Chocolate and Cafe Christy Fox said her business participated in supplying some of the chocolate for the chocolate walk because of her tremendous support for the community.
Fox said her business, which is known for their truffles and regionally inspired chocolates that are sourced as locally as possible, shares chocolate with the community because it adds a “little touch of sweetness.”
To Babick, opening Sweet Bellingham means being able to share the same wide-eyed candy shop feelings he held as a kid. For a long time, Babick said he worked as a professional auditor and investigator, so sharing treats with the community is a way for him to promote the community's happiness.
“I finally switched to something that makes people happy,” Babick said. “Like if I'm going to audit you, you’re going to be pretty unhappy, right? But if I make somebody a sweet treat, they're gonna be happy. What a difference.”
Ward said they plan to adopt the chocolate walk into a similar format in the coming years until the community becomes more familiar and supportive of the event, and then evolve the walk to invite more things like chocolatiers, chocolate making classes, VIP receptions and chocolate fountains.
Part of what makes Fairhaven special according to Ward is because it’s an area in Whatcom County that has been able to preserve its history, not just in the historic buildings and the village itself, but with the stories and characters that compose Fairhaven.
“Entering Fairhaven is almost like stepping back in time to a place that's a little simpler,” Ward said. “You know, it's all independently owned and operated businesses. So, you're going to find things here you can't find anywhere else. It's such a beautiful magical place; I say all the time, it's a little bit of a fantasy walking into Fairhaven, you can't find that in a lot of places. It's the gem in our crown.”
Raine Westfall is a fourth-year WWU student majoring in Biology with a Marine Emphasis and Visual Journalism. She’s interested in telling stories about the environment, but she also enjoys learning people’s stories and being able to share them with the community. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.