Food trucks and zombies

Last weekend was a big one for our downtown. Many of you might be familiar with the annual ArtWalk Weekend that has now taken place each fall in our downtown for the past 12 years, and last weekend’s 2016 installment of this event was just as fun as ever.

But it wasn’t just the ArtWalk Weekend that took place downtown this past Saturday, drawing over 1,000 pedestrians walking up and down Main Street. In addition to the 12th annual ArtWalk Weekend, there was the first-ever Zombie Bike Ride to take place in Nashua’s history, as well as the city’s first-ever Food Truck Festival.

That’s right – downtown Nashua had zombies riding bicycles through the streets last Saturday afternoon – all of whom ended up at the parking lot at 30 Temple St., where eight food trucks were waiting with soups, sandwiches, wraps and tacos to give out to them and to the other 400 members of the general public who showed up to enjoy the festivities.

I highlight both of these events in addition to the annual ArtWalk because this is exactly the kind of activity that we need more of within Nashua. When I ran for mayor last year, I remember the many conversations I would have at people’s doorsteps about our desire to see Nashua be more than just a bedroom community of Boston. Many of us have enjoyed our downtown for years and are aware of the different events that happen on a regular basis thanks to groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Great American Downtown, but so many more of us never think about downtown when we’re out on our weeknight dinners or weekend activities with the kids.

For those who more often find themselves eating at Applebee’s rather than Martha’s, or grabbing a coffee at McDonald’s rather than JaJaBelle’s or Riverwalk Cafe, I encourage you to give our downtown a shot next time and experience the locally owned shops and restaurants while also enjoying some of these events like the Zombie Bike Ride and the Food Truck Festival.

These new events are hard to make happen. I know this from my own experience helping to start the annual Dinner & Movie events that the Chamber has done each summer for the past five years, or the concerts I would help manage on Main Street each summer when I was the chamber’s CEO.

The amount of work that goes into planning these events – organizing the logistics, getting the right permits, marketing the event, arranging for security, lining up food and beverage vendors – these things take a ton of work outside of anyone’s regular job.

We’re lucky to have folks in our community who are willing to do all that work. Some of you might be familiar with M&C Clothing. a consignment shop located out on Amherst Street between Nashua and Amherst. Its owner, Karen Goddard, lives right next to downtown and was the inspiration for this first-ever Zombie Bike Ride. But she didn’t do it alone. Tracy Hatch, the chamber’s new CEO, along with another Nashua resident – Mike Aquino – worked for months with Karen to make both the Zombie Bike Ride and the Food Truck Festival happen.

Mike Aquino is a financial planner with Weisman Tessier Lambert & Halloran. I can guarantee you his daily job does not involve calling food truck owner and asking them if they’d be willing to come to Nashua for a day. Nor does Tracy’s daily job normally involve asking our police chief if he can send a detail to protect the 50 zombies who will be bicycling down Main Street.

Yet, these three individuals – along with a host of others from various groups who volunteered their time last weekend – were willing to spend those many hours outside their jobs and outside of their other life priorities to create events that close to a thousand of us got to enjoy last weekend.

That’s pretty neat.

I’m so proud of the work that these three did to make last weekend so enjoyable for the rest of us who call Nashua home. They had a lot of help – ActorSingers, Positive Street Art, the Millyard Brewery, and Mark Levesque all volunteered their time to help these three. And even Mayor Donchess got into the act by painting his face and playing the "grand master zombie" role.

If you bump into any of these folks – give them a hearty thank-you for making Nashua a fun city for all of us. And get yourself downtown sometime – you might be pleasantly surprised at the new energy you’ll find.

Chris Williams is the former president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, one-time mayoral candidate and currently is a partner at VelocityHUB.