Print 400 enjoy annual Chocolate Walk
Written by Greg Ruland   
Wednesday, 08 December 2010 17:00

The only items missing from the sidewalks of Old Town were the silver bells.

Plenty of people were passing, more than 400, the number of tickets available for the 17th annual Old Town Association Chocolate Walk on Saturday, Dec. 4.

The event was sold out, said Jim Ledbetter, whose business was handing out treats to visitors.

“It’s the most people I’ve ever seen walking in Old Town,” Mayor Diane Joens said.

Merchants who dressed as elves, Victorian grand dames and Santa Claus greeted smile after smile from hundreds of giddy participants who lined up for treats, many of them children, their beaming faces smudged with chocolate.

Children of all ages, from one to 93, could be seen breaking into little jigs here and there, or heard softly singing their favorite carols in time with music that streamed from virtually every open door.

Smitty Smith, left, and Michael Galatioto greet Chocolate Walk guests with smiles and homemade candy at an Old Town restaurant Saturday, Dec. 4.In the air, there was a feeling of Christmas.

Upon the lighting of the new, electronic light show shaped as an evergreen tree atop Cottonwood Civic Center, a chorus of voices sounded “O Tannenbaum,” aided harmonically by a contingent of Verde Valley Singers. Nearly every City Council member was present for the lighting, which Development Services General Manager Dan Lueder, tool belt in hand, made sure would come to life on cue.

When Joens gave the order, on came the lights.

“I guess I can go to work on Monday,” a relieved Lueder said.

More than 40 merchants took part this year, nearly twice as many as last year. Each concocted 400 chocolate items to distribute to participants, who walked or caught a trolley from point to point, their hand-decorated paper bag in hand, to gather the loot.

“Overall, there’s such great enthusiasm for this event,” said City Manager Doug Bartosh, his granddaughter, Scarlet, wrapped in his arms. “It’s great for our community.”

Business owner Mike McClendon was worried the award for Best Decorated Store she owned the last two years could go to another merchant.

“This year, they’re actually trying to compete with me,” McClendon said, holding a tray of chocolates out for the parade of people passing through the store.

“It’s so quaint and cozy,” said James Soldier, a visitor from Seattle. “It’s my first time in Arizona. It’s so great to see a whole town pulling together like this.”

“It’s the start of the Christmas season,” said Barbara Donahue, owner of an Old Town business. “Everyone is happy and getting in the spirit.”

Keyleigh Thomas, 6, who made the trip from Phoenix, wiped away a suspicious smudge on her face but denied she had eaten any chocolate yet. The smudge was from the hot chocolate she drank, her mother explained as the whole family waited in line for their next treat.

Lisa Pender, president of Old Town Association, sponsor of the event, said this year’s walk surpassed expectations because of the enthusiastic assistance of merchant members, the city of Cottonwood, Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce and many others.

“Thank you for your help and participation to make this event successful,” Pender told a crowd outside Civic Center.