While living in Storrs, you may not get much opportunity to explore the communities surrounding the University of Connecticut. Willimantic, just a 15-minute drive down Storrs Road, was mysterious to me. I’ve heard a cluster of tidbits about the town, including it being home to Eastern Connecticut State University, containing some quality off-campus apartments and having the closest authentic Mexican food you can get to UConn. This was part of the draw of the street fair. Being from Philadelphia, which has many options for local Mexican fare, I was craving a good quesadilla. I hopped on the shuttle and made my way down.
Before last night, Willimantic was an enigma to me. Now I know the truth: it’s a fantastic little town that can throw one hell of a street festival. For those not in the know, Willimantic throws a “street fest” every third Thursday between May and September. They close off a five-block portion of Main Street and pepper the sidewalks with food joints, local businesses and anyone looking to make an impact in the general Willimantic community.
The diverse crowd flowed in and out of the countless stalls, comprised of UConn and ECSU students, local residents, dogs – you name it.I quickly ordered a steak quesadilla from one of the several food trucks lining the sidewalk, Tacos la Rosa (which has a brick-and-mortar location in town as well). It scratched the itch I’ve had since coming back to campus like no other. The musical component of the evening really tied it all together, connecting the city blocks by the sounds of local bands, DJs and rappers.
“Third Thursday is such a great example of the uniqueness of Willimantic and what a great event the community can put together,” Mae Flexer, a Connecticut state senator, said. “I’ve been coming here for 16 years now, since I was a student at UConn. It’s a great opportunity to see the vibrancy, the different wonderful organizations of the town and the musical talent that we have in the region and of course – great food.” Amen to that.
If you haven’t visited yet, Flexer had a killer pitch: “Willimantic has a little bit of everything. There’s a rich artistic community here, there’s an excellent musical community here – I could go on. You walk down Main Street, which is a place that I love, and you can see what makes this town special. Willimantic is a lovely diverse place where everyone is embraced, and I’m really proud that I’ve been able to [as a state Senator] invest in the city wholeheartedly.”
I arrived back on campus late last night with a newfound appreciation for Willimantic. Some people still might overlook it as “just another town” but it’s a magnificent hidden gem of northeastern Connecticut and I can’t wait to come back.
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.