Angeline Godwin was amazed at the crowd at Fast Track 2013 on Tuesday.
The annual Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce trade show will be open to the public from 4-8 p.m. today at The Clock Tower Building at Commonwealth Centre, the former Tultex factory off Franklin Street.
About 5,000 invited guests attended VIP Night on Tuesday. The event is designed for area business people to renew their relationships with longtime clients and make new customers at the expo.
Godwin, the new president of Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) who is from Mississippi, was making her first visit to Fast Track. She said it seems to be the largest trade show she ever has visited.
“This probably is the most people I’ve ever been able to interact with in one place,” Godwin said. “For a community of our size, this is really impressive.”
“Neighboring communities use this as a model” for their trade shows, noted another visitor, retired Martinsville fire chief Jerry Brock.
More than 130 exhibitors — including nearly two dozen new ones — are showcasing their products and services at the show.
One new participant is Teddy Mountain, a store that lets customers design their own stuffed animals. It opens Friday on Virginia Avenue in Collinsville.
“We just want to get our name out and let people become familiar with our new business in town,” said owner Penny Denny, explaining why she is taking part in Fast Track.
The store recently joined the chamber, and already it is getting customers.
“We’ve got six (birthday) parties scheduled, and we haven’t even opened” yet, Denny said.
Second to Nature, which recently opened on Greensboro Road just south of Martinsville, is another first-time participant. The store provides products and services to women affected by breast cancer.
“This is a really good show,” said employee Leslie Brooks. “We want to get our name out there (to the public), and this is a really good avenue for us to do that.”
Aaron’s Inc., which sells and rents furniture, appliances and electronic items, has a store in Collinsville, but many people apparently have not realized it also has a store on Greensboro Road near Kmart, said Sales Manager Terri Stovall.
By participating in the trade show, “we’re trying to build our business” at the store south of Martinsville, Stovall said.
She was astonished by the number of businesses taking part in the show.
“I didn’t know that a lot of these businesses exist,” Stovall added.
In addition to businesses, the show provides exposure to local institutions, such as Memorial Hospital, that are not part of most people’s routines, said hospital Chief Executive Officer Skip Philips.
The hospital’s cafeteria took part in The Taste of Martinsville-Henry County, an attraction at VIP night in which more than a dozen local eateries provided samples of some of their popular treats. The hospital cafeteria is open to the public, not just patients’ families and hospital employees.
At VIP Night, the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society “made a lot of connections with people who’ve never visited us,” and some offered to help with the organization’s future activities, said Executive Director Debbie Hall.
Many regular Fast Track visitors were anxious to see how Simply The Best Flowers & Gifts would design its booth this year. The florist’s booths always prove popular at the trade show, and co-owner Deborah Barker was keeping this year’s theme under wraps so it would be a surprise.
The secret’s out. This year’s theme is “A Garden Wedding.” The booth features a variety of purple, green and white flowers surrounded by greenery and a decorative water fountain along a path paved with large stones. Barker spent much of Monday afternoon installing the stones herself.
Tiffany Anderson, who, like Barker, is a horticulture teacher at Magna Vista High School, “agreed to pull out her (wedding) gown” and portray the bride for the exhibit, Barker said.
A wedding theme is “something I’ve been playing with in my mind” for a while, she said.
As spring nears, Barker said she realized that a wedding would be a fitting theme for her trade show booth because “brides who became engaged at Christmastime are making their plans” to marry.
Blue Ridge Village’s booth is designed like Disney’s “Magic Kingdom,” with employees dressed in costumes as Cinderella, Prince Charming, Snow White and other characters.
The booth’s theme is “Remember.” Like people remember visiting Disney World, employees want people to remember Blue Ridge when they or their family members need assisted living, rehabilitation or Alzheimer’s/dementia care, according to Marketing Director Tilisa Riddle.
The Henry County Schools’ booth was plain when VIP Night opened, but it was decorated — by visitors — by the end of the night.
Its theme is “Thank a Teacher.” Trade show visitors are invited to write on the booth messages of thanks to teachers in the county schools who have taught them or their children, or even to teachers who they know outside schools, according to school system spokesman Melany Stowe.
Even if they did not attend the county schools, “most people ... know a good teacher,” Stowe said. “Our teachers are members of the community.”
Some of the system’s teachers, including Teachers of the Year, and other employees are making appearances at the booth.
Becki Bishop, the librarian at Campbell Court Elementary School in Bassett, said she is touched when former students tell her how much they enjoyed visiting the library and knowing her.
“It makes you feel really good,” Bishop said.
Chamber President Amanda Witt said “the exhibitors seemed happy” with VIP Night, and any comments they provide will be used to make the event better in the future.
When the trade show opens to the public this afternoon, admission will cost $2 per person or two cans of food to help the needy.