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READINGTON, N.J. -- Multiple torrential downpours did not drown out the happy mood of the estimated 160,000 people who attended this weekend’s 30th annual Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning at Solberg Airport here.
In addition to the balloon inflations and rides, many other activities were enjoyed in a family-friendly atmosphere. Perhaps most notable were concerts by Eddie Money of "Two Tickets to Paradise" fame, Motown legend Smokey Robinson, and "Celebrity Apprentice" champion and former Poison frontman Bret Michaels. Each musical performance was followed by a fireworks show.
"This is the 30th balloon festival, the 20th time Quick Chek has been title sponsor, and it's our 45th anniversary [as a company]," John Schaninger, Quick Chek's vice president of sales and marketing, told CSNews Online. "So, it's an exciting time for us."
As for the exhibitor booths themselves, Quick Chek Corp. had the largest presence. The convenience store chain had a large hospitality tent, as well as a separately located 5,000-square-foot convenience store that offered many features of a Quick Chek c-store, such as made-to-order sandwiches.
"Solberg Airport is a functioning airport for 50 weeks a year," noted Schaninger. "We take it over for two weeks a year. It took a week and a half to construct the convenience store. Of course, it's not a full Quick Chek, but it has a great representation of our subs, cheesesteaks, salads and wraps.
The fountain area at the makeshift c-store also offered a multitude of beverage varieties. "It's the largest fountain department in North America," Schaninger noted. "We also have a large coffee and iced coffee section."
During the three-day event, about 500 Quick Chek employees volunteered their time to serve festival goers, the vice president added. "Our most important ingredient is our team," he said. "It's great team-building. They are our No. 1 brand ambassadors."
The festival began 30 years ago with only 10 hot air balloons. Malcolm Forbes, former publisher of Forbes magazine, as well as a couple of other investors, originally owned the event. Years later, Howard Freeman, a promotion expert, took over the show after witnessing the festival and believed it had tremendous potential.
"He saw a gem out of only 10 balloons," said Schaninger. "He came to us and asked what we thought of it."
Quick Chek jumped on the opportunity to help Freeman grow the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, the vice president said, because it is located in New Jersey where the c-store chain is headquartered. "It's like Quick Chek itself," said Schaninger. "We often look at a small idea and figure out how to turn it into something unique that nobody else would have thought of."
Now that the festival has become a large, well-known event, Quick Chek won't stop trying to improve it. "We received about 30 or 40 suggestions this year about how to make the event better," Schaninger recalled. "We want to constantly make it better."