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Clam Festival ritual: Yarmouth residents bring out their chairs

Clam Festival ritual: Yarmouth residents bring out their chairs

Photo: File
Susan Mathews, left, and Patty Peters, both from Portland, sample fried and steamed clams at last year's Yarmouth Clam Festival.

YARMOUTH — Every year about this time, residents begin to notice something foreign cropping up along Main Street.

Some say it's obnoxious and intrusive; some call it crazy. Others love it. 

"They tend to appear kind of like mushrooms; you leave your house in the morning and come back, and they've just popped up on the lawn," Yarmouth Police Lt. Dean Perry said.

Whatever people say about it, everyone knows what the mass deployment of chairs along Main Street means: it's time for the Clam Festival.

The 47th annual festival quietly kicks off Wednesday, with the soft-opening of Smokey's Greater Shows carnival. The festival gets into full swing Friday, with the official start to the weekend and what all the chair-owners have been waiting for, the parade.

Staking territory with a chair on Main Street for the parade has been going on for about 15 years and has become a minor tradition, Perry said. This year was as competitive as he's seen it.

"I think we've reached a new low this year," Perry said. "We've had a chair chained to a 'no parking' sign since the end of May, which I thought was hilarious."

This year will mark Sheryl Winchester's family's third Clam Festival. For the last two years, they've set out chairs on Main Street near the bridge to watch the parade, she said.

"Our spot is already gone," Winchester said Monday, at the Main Street bridge area. "We were just talking about (the parade) and (the kids) said, 'we have to get chairs out tonight'. It seems like we set out chairs Wednesday last year."

She said when her husband gets home from work, they'll bring their chairs down and try to grab some of the few good spots left.

The chairs are sort of a running joke in town, said Yvonne and Peter Parent, owners of the new Yvonne Parent Massage on Main Street.

"I think it's a little ridiculous," Yvonne said, as she worked last Friday to ready her store for the Monday opening.

"I think it's comical; it's Yarmouth tradition," Peter said.

Tammy Russell and Donna Reed, who work at Handy Andy's on Main Street, said originally the elderly started putting the chairs out the night before because it was difficult for them to get down to the parade after the crowds come.

"Every year it gets earlier and earlier," Reed said. "Now everybody does it. It's crazy."

For the most part, they find the tradition and the festival a bit of a nuisance and hassle, because the chairs sometimes block the entrance to the store and the masses of people make it difficult to get around town.

"It's inconvenient," Russell said. "But it is good for business, we just have to take a few more precautions."

Other residents see the chairs as a welcome sign of summer.

"I see it as joyous kind of thing for Yarmouth, " said Kathy Slack, voice instructor at the 317 Main St. Community Music Center. "It's the little piece of summer that finally tells you it's here, the Clam Festival."

In addition to being an opportunity for residents to compete over chair spaces, the festival is also a crucial time of year for the town's nonprofits.

"It's the nonprofits' big day," said Mark Primeau, director of the festival at the chamber of commerce. "The mission of the festival is to support the nonprofits and to be a community-builder."

The festival brings 100,000 people to Yarmouth over the weekend and for many nonprofits it's the only way they are able to meet their budget goals for the year, Primeau said.

This year, the festival brings 145 crafters, along with 40 artists, expanded from 27 last year, and a raffle to win a 2012 Ford Focus.

A portion of the raffle tickets helps to supplement the fee charged to nonprofits to have a booth at the festival, Primeau said.

Jules Mellor, administrator at the chamber of commerce, said she loves seeing the chairs out on the street.

"As far as the chamber goes, I know I'm doing my job if the chairs are out early," she said.

And, for the most part, people leave the chairs alone. But technically, if you leave something out on the curb, it could be considered abandoned property, meaning people can do what they want with it, Perry said.

"I can't say I haven't seen some chairs switched around or stacked up on top of each other," he said. "Putting your chair out (in advance) is really just providing fodder at this point."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow Will on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.

Memorial, bench dedication set for Yarmouth resident

YARMOUTH — Friends and family will hold a candlelight memorial Saturday, July 21, to remember Becky Schaffer, who died last year at age 23, and to officially dedicate a granite bench inscribed dedicated to her passionate love of ice hockey.

The memorial will be an informal gathering to dedicate the bench by telling stories and reading one of Becky's poems, her father, Bill Schaffer said.

"We all share the loss, so we wanted to share the memorial," he said. "Hockey was a big thing for Becky. We wanted something tangible for people that want to go there and think about her."

Schaffer played on the girl's hockey team at Yarmouth High School, as well as on the boy's team, where she was the only female member of the team. She also played in pick-up games around town.

In addition to her passion for hockey, Schaffer was also a volunteer who worked at the Sanchat Restart Center, an orphanage in Gilgil, Kenya, for two months in 2010. She also had plans to join the Peace Corps and to pursue graduate programs in African Studies.

Schaffer died in a hiking accident on Aug. 6, 2011, in Pohnpei, Micronesia, while attending a three-week training session for WorldTeach, a nonprofit that provides teaching assistance in foreign countries. After the training session, she was to begin a year-long teaching program for high school students on the island.

The memorial and dedication will be at 7:30 p.m. on the far end of the hockey pond behind Key Bank on Main Street.

— Will Graff