TAMPA PALMS — The sluggish economy and heavy rains Sunday took their toll on this year's Taste of New Tampa, drawing fewer people and fewer participating restaurants.
Officials with the New Tampa Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the annual food festival, did not have attendance figures earlier this week. However, the crowd, which has swelled to more than 6,000 people in the past, was noticeably smaller.
"I think the rain may have been a complicating factor for people who were coming out," said chamber of commerce administrator Karen Frashier.
Despite the downpour that battered the area while vendors set up their booths, organizers said the event was still successful.
More than 70 businesses set up booths, giving away freebies such as candy, sidewalk chalk, pens and toothbrushes.
Frashier said the economy kept some restaurants away, many that had participated for years. Only 18 restaurants doled out food samples, down from about 40 the previous year.
However, the restaurants that occupied food booths proved popular. Texas Roadhouse Grill gave out ribs; Red Lobster passed out shrimp; Cafe Ole prepared giant pans of paella. The Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club served a cobbler from the chef's family recipe; Marco's Pizza handed out slices of pizza; and Bruster's scooped several flavors of ice cream.
Many also handed out coupons for free kids meals or discounted drink specials.
The festival is held outdoors under commercial tents. Rains pelted the area overnight and into the morning. A light rain fell during the three-hour event and picked up again once it ended. Entertainment by musical groups and dance troupes was canceled.
The annual tradition, which started in 1993, raises money for community projects. Armbands were $15 per person this year; children 10 and under were admitted free with a paid adult. This year's proceeds will benefit the chamber and nonprofit organizations such as PTAs and Scout troops who volunteer at the event.
Organizers hope to have more artisans sell their wares next year.
"All in all, I think everybody who came had a really good time," Frashier said.
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com.