BENNINGTON -- Downtown retailers were open late for the "most important night of the year to be on Main Street" -- the third Thursday in July, known as Midnight Madness in Bennington.
For nearly four decades, since 1963, the once-a-year event has served to drive crowds downtown for special sales and extended store hours.
"It's always brisk," said Nick Monte of The Village Chocolate Shoppe, one of many brick-and-mortar stores to set up shop outside on the sidewalk, "to alleviate some of the congestion" inside, he said. And while the chocolate business doesn't lend itself to one-day liquidation sales, the Chocolate Shoppe offered fudge discounts Thursday, and Monte said he supported any event that contributed to crowds along Main Street.
Organized by the Better Bennington Corp., the annual madness features music and in the past has closed streets. But organizers say the emphasis is always on local downtown retailers. In contrast to other events such as Mayfest, where vendors are invited downtown, Midnight Madness concentrates on local shops in Bennington -- both downtown and around town.
"It's all throughout town now. It's just about everywhere," said John Shannahan, executive director of the BBC, who pointed to happenings off the main street at Bennington Potters on County Street and elsewhere. While Mayfest is marketed outside the area, Shannahan said Midnight Madness was mostly local, and business-driven. "It's really on the backs of the merchants."
As chairman for one task force resulting from the Vermont Council on Rural Development's recent community visit to Bennington, Shannahan said his committee, focused on making downtown Bennington a destination, was looking to create similar, more regular events coinciding with each Friday night opening of the Oldcastle Theatre Company.
That theater company, recently relocated to the former Knights of Columbus building at 331 Main St., is scheduled to open its first production in October. Including extended retail hours, music and activities outdoors, Shannahan said the idea was to "build an evening where people come to town and enjoy themselves" before the show, using the theater "as a stepping stone" to strengthen the downtown.
Main Street began teeming early Thursday, before most businesses reopened for the evening at 7 p.m. Dozens kept their doors open to midnight offering special rates and clearance sales on most wares: 10 percent off at the Bennington Arts Guild, 20 percent off at H. Greenberg & Son -- up to 50 percent off summer clothing at Shaffe's Men's Shop and storewide at Jay's Art Shop & Frame Gallery.
One shopper, recently relocated to Bennington and experiencing his first Madness, said he had found a good deal at the Gamers Grotto.
The sales extended beyond the downtown, including businesses around Bennington -- the newly opened LaFlamme's Inc. at the corner of Northside Drive and Harwood Hill Road pitched a tent and offered buy one, get one half off deals on sofas and loveseats.
Worked up an appetite shopping? Lil' Britain was offering fish and chip specials, as were most other restaurants, which teemed throughout the evening.