Sugar-topped funnel cakes were savored, balloon animals and hats were created and members of Lodi's Chamber of Commerce dressed as clowns Tuesday night for the Lodi Chamber of Commerce's business showcase.
The celebration was the first of its kind for the chamber and served as a welcoming party of sorts for the 152 new members the organization recruited during its aggressive membership drive late last year.
Representatives of more than 80 local businesses crowded into Hutchins Street Square's Kirst Hall to network with one another and introduce themselves to the community. Many of the vendors and chamber directors wore vibrantly-colored clown wigs or painted their faces. Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the chamber, donned a clown suit with matching face paint. Carol Farron, community development director for Lodi Memorial Hospital, said it wasn't the first time she'd seen Patrick wear a costume for a chamber event.
"For their annual meeting after the chamber had returned from China, he wore a pair of Chinese pajamas he picked up while over there," she said.
Patrick also carried a small horn with him that he used to playfully honk at people when they walked past him.
While participants spoke highly of the event, the celebration began ominously when an old-fashioned popcorn machine burst into flames and set off the hall's fire alarm.
"I walked in and smelt burnt popcorn," said Samantha Gaskin, director of marketing for Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Lathrop. "Then the thing burst into flames before it was put out. The whole thing lasted maybe two minutes."
The fire was put out with a fire extinguisher and the smoke cleared out of the hall after the doors were opened.
The fire department responded, but the small fire was already put out and the popcorn machine was being loaded into a pickup truck by the time they arrived. Although the smell of burned popcorn lingered for a half-hour after the fire was put out, the rest of the evening's festivities went on without incident.
"It's my first themed trade show," said Gaskin. "I really like the stilt-walker."
The Lathrop hotel is a recent addition to the Lodi Chamber of Commerce. Gaskin said it was important for the Lathrop hotel to join the chamber because they are in a nearby community and it helps spread awareness about the property. Like many vendors Tuesday night, she was raffling off a prize related to the business. Those who dropped off their business cards could win a free night's stay at the hotel.
While Gaskin's attire didn't embrace the event's circus theme, other vendors painted their faces or wore outfits similar to Patrick's.
"They told us to do something fun," said Jammie Widmer, director of sales for Onsite Electronics Recycling. "So I went to Michael's and bought face-painting supplies."
Widmer's face paint included a heart on her left cheek and decorative lines across her forehead.
The chamber's event was successful because it was open to the public and in the evening, she said. Since people have a difficult time leaving work early or during the middle of the day, hosting a business showcase in the evening enables the biggest number of people to attend as possible, Widmer said. The atmosphere was also enjoyable, Widmer said.
"It's something that's not boring so the kids can come and it's fun for families," she said.
Farron said Tuesday's event was good for the community because it brightens people's spirits during a difficult economic time.
"People are ready for fun," she said, adding that the chamber outdid itself decorating the hall and selling the circus theme.
"Kirst Hall has never looked like this before," she said.