VALPARAISO | Emily Lammers cradled her 6-month-old daughter, Elise, in her lap as she waited for the popcorn parade to start Saturday in downtown Valparaiso.
Lammers, of Crown Point, came out more than an hour before the parade began at 10 a.m. and was able to nab a prime spot of real estate along the route at the corner of Lincolnway and Franklin Street.
“We were lucky to find it,” she said.
A few blocks away, Lammers' husband, Steve, and their 3-year-old daughter, Cora, were watching the Lit'l Kernel Puff Race for children.
“Cora wants to run in the race next year,” Lammers said.
Emily Lammers' mom, Lisa Rosinko, of Crown Point, said it was her first time watching the parade and she was looking forward to seeing the bands and floats.
“It's really amazing how they make the floats out of popcorn,” Rosinko said.
The parade is a highlight of the 34th annual Popcorn Fest, which features hundreds of vendors hawking everything from jewelry and clothing to crafts and baked goods. There's also a “poppin' and play place” for kids, with inflatable rides, games and food.
Entertainment scheduled to begin at noon on the main stage of the Porter Health Amphitheater in Central Park Plaza included the Acousticats, Killer Ray Allison, the Crawpuppies and Rusted Root.
Midway through the morning, vendors already were doing a brisk business.
South Bend Chocolate Company employee Chelsea Newkirk, sported an orange T-shirt with the words, “I work for chocolate,” as she manned a booth in front of the shop on Franklin Street and offered samples of pumpkin pretzels to passers-by. Pumpkin caramel corn also was among the store's offerings geared toward the fall season.
Cindy and Mark Russell, of Valparaiso, stopped to buy some of the pumpkin pretzels. The couple said they've attended the popcorn fest for the past 25 years.
After perusing the booths early in the morning, the Russells planned to watch their son, Josh, perform in the parade with the pep band.
“This is a great part of the community,” Cindy Russell said of the festival. “It's part of a vital downtown.”
Not all the vendors had booths. Valparaiso Sunrise Kiwanis member Biff Geiss strolled through the crowd selling popcorn balls to raise money for his organization.
“We raise money so we can give money away,” he said. “When the sun shines, it's a good day.”
Randy Sowers, of Topeka, Ind., sat at the back of his booth on Indiana Street., overseeing his inventory of ceramic snowmen, ghosts, pumpkins and other creations.
He's also had booths at the Scarecrow Festival in Wanatah and Apple Festivals in Nappanee and Kendallville, Ind., he said.
He said he set up his booth in Valparaiso at midnight, and though doing the festival is a lot of work, the benefits make up for any lack of sleep.
“This is our best show,” Sowers said.