By LISA CAPOBIANCO
For 30 years now, the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce has given local residents an opportunity to fight cabin fever with the annual Home & Business Expo.
From crafts to entertainment to hundreds of exhibits for different home improvement and lifestyle needs, the expo has brought in a large turnout while maximizing exposure for local businesses.
Sponsored by Covanta and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties, the theme of this year’s expo is centered on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Although the event has featured sports stars in the past, such as University of Connecticut basketball player Rebecca Lobo, it will feature a live demonstration from local robotics team Operation P.E.A.C.E. (Practicing Engineering And Competitive Cooperative Excellence).
Made up of students from Bristol and other surrounding towns like Torrington, Harwinton, and Burlington, P.E.A.C.E. is currently in its fifth season and will have two robot demonstrations: last year’s robot, which is able to throw a two-foot round exercise ball, and this year’s six-foot-tall robot will move and stack totes. Formed as a 4-H robotics team in the northwest corner of the state, P.E.A.C.E. has a mission to “promote engineering, leadership, and community involvement.”
The team, which consists of two different age groups, will conduct its demonstration Saturday at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and then again at noon and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
The team practices 25 to 30 hours a week and meets at the A.G. Russell building in Bristol.
Stephenie Thibeault, who serves as the team’s lead mentor, said she hopes the public will become more aware of the team’s presence in the community. This year P.E.A.C.E. will compete against teams from all over the Northeast next weekend during a FIRST Robotics Competition at Wilby High School.
Thibeault added that the team has received a positive response from the community, especially during the Mum Festival.
“[The team is] really excited about it,” said Thibeault, adding that the team will be showcasing its new robot for the first time. “We got a really positive response everywhere we’ve been in Bristol.”
Jim Albert, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, said the expo will serve as a great way to showcase robotics programs in the area,
“We have a very large history in manufacturing,” said Albert, adding how Bristol has seen a peaked interest in manufacturing and other STEM-related career fields.
“Manufacturing is on a growth curve.”
Dating back to 100 years, the home show took a hiatus for a period of time before being resurrected in 1985, said Albert. Originally held at the old Bristol Armory, the event ultimately moved to Bristol Eastern High School where it will take place again this weekend.
Last year, the expo brought a large crowd despite the good weather. This year, Albert said he hopes the event will bring even more visitors. Last year about 110 vendors (including businesses and non-profit organizations) participated, and to date, at least 100 booths will be present at this year’s expo. From door prizes, to pre-season discounts to products, the public will have a variety of things to look forward to at the expo while meeting with businesses from different industries, including home improvement, health care, energy conservation, and more.
“It’s something to do in the middle of winter. A lot of people are starting to think of spring projects said Albert. “For businesses, we hope to bring in clients, and for clients, [we hope to bring] discounted deals.”
This year marks the first time in which the Plainville Chamber will be part of the expo, adding some additional booths at the event. Some participating vendors from Plainville this year include Wheeler Clinic, UBI Federal Credit Union, and Heartwood Cabinet Refacing.
“It does more to pull us as a region together,” said Albert. “The more we do together, the better.”
Meanwhile, the expo will have a variety of entertainment for children, including activities from the Home Depot and the Bristol Boys & Girls Club and Family Center, as well as mascots from the New Britain Rock Cats, the Hartford Wolfpack and Lake Compounce.
The expo also will feature a craft fair with dozens of vendors, and will begin selling tickets for the Pequabuck River Duck Race. The event, which takes place at the Central Street bridge in Forestville on May 3, will feature 5,000 ducks racing down the river in pursuit of prizes for their “owners.”
Some of the prizes this year include gift certificates to local restaurants, money prizes, a 42” TV sponsored by Crowley Auto Group, and dozens more.
“We are excited to be celebrating the 30th Annual Home & Business Expo and glad that we have received so much support from the community that we can continue to put this event on year after year,” said Rebecca White, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the Chamber. “It is a great chance for our members to present their products and services to the public in addition to being a fun event for those of all ages with kids’ activities, a craft fair, health screenings and much more.”
The 2015 Home & Business Expo will take place Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bristol Eastern High School, located at 632 King St., Bristol. General admission is $6 and $5 for seniors. Children ages 12 and under can enter free of charge.
For more information, visit www.centralctchambers.org.