With luscious free chocolate samplings, sparkling ice sculptures, and discount Valentine’s Day shopping, the 18th annual Salem’s So Sweet festival on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 8 and 9, is a perfect antidote to the mid-winter blues.
Sponsored by Salem Main Streets, the Salem Chamber of Commerce, and Destination Salem, the festival was originally designed to introduce people to downtown restaurant and retail businesses during the slow winter months by luring people out of the warm comfort of their homes with chocolate and ice sculptures. The weekend now attracts “5,000 to 7,000 visitors depending on weather,” according to Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem.
“It is a great place to walk around,” said Adria Duijvesteijnn, 40, of Salem. “It is a true winter wonderland with the ice sculptures and colorful lighting at night. Sometime it is freezing and snow-covered, other years it is a 60-degree day and the ice sculptures are dripping. It doesn’t matter; the whole atmosphere is inviting.”
“Bring the family,” said Maria Harris, owner of Maria’s Sweet Somethings, a popular candy and ice cream store at 26 Front St. since 2001. “The family-friendly weekend is fun for all ages. Pick up a map, walk around, see the ice sculptures. It is a great way to introduce people to downtown Salem.”
Weather permitting, the Salem Trolley will offer rides around the festival route from noon to 4 p.m. both days for $2 per adult; kids ride for free.
The well-planned weekend includes more than 20 dazzling ice sculptures by Ice Effects of Rockland, ranging from a cat and crystal snowflake to a Valentine’s Day heart and Godzilla. Maria’s Sweet Somethings is sponsoring a sea captain sculpture.
“We work on the sculptures for two to three weeks in advance at our Rockland location,” said Steve Rose, owner of Ice Effects. “Then we transport them to Salem and do the final sculpting on site.”
On Saturday, the ice sculptures will be illuminated with colorful lighting from 5 to 9 p.m. by Retonica of Peabody.
“This is our fourth year lighting the festival sculptures,” said Joey Nicotera, Retonica’s owner. “Because of the way ice picks up light, when properly lit, the sculptures come to life with an intense internal glow not unlike the fire of a diamond. We create a color scheme for each sculpture so that each is unique, and many of the sculptures feature color changes that add another level of interest to the artwork.”
“The festival is a fun way to celebrate love and chocolate,’’ said Harris of Maria’s Sweet Something, who has participated in the festival since 2003. “We go all out decorating for Valentine’s Day and of course we have samples for everyone to enjoy.”
Harris’s shop, with 120 to 130 different kinds of chocolates, bills itself “as the most decadent store in town.” Living up to that reputation, she will feature a chocolate fountain and a giant gummy bear contest during the festival.
At the nearby Kakawa Chocolate House , 173 Essex St., adjacent to the Peabody Essex Museum, owner Tony Bennett is also decorating and readying his shop for the busy weekend.
“We will have samples of eight different chocolate elixirs and some of our Valentine’s Day speciality chocolates,” he said. “We opened last year and participated in the festival for the first time. The event had a great positive energy.”
Kakawa draws on chocolate’s history, re-creating original Mesoamerican, Mayan, and Aztec chocolate recipes, and using them to inspire new creations. All the chocolates are made on site in small batches. The store also serves organic ice cream.
“Some of our specialty chocolates feature red and green chili spices from Santa Fe. We are also gluten-free and vegan-friendly,” added Bennett, who splits his time between Salem and his two shops in Santa Fe.
“The festival brings out a camaraderie among neighbors in Salem,” added Duijvesteijnn. “My birthday is Feb. 9, which is always close to the festival weekend, so it has become where I spend my birthday with friends.”
Just five stops from North Station, Salem is located on the Newburyport/Rockport Line of the MBTA Commuter Rail. All the ice sculptures and shops are within walking distance from the train station. There is parking in downtown Salem lots and garages. Parking locations and rates are available at www.salem.org/parking-map-transportation.Linda Greenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.