Awardee: Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association and Penn Cove Shellfish
Award: Outstanding Promotional Event
Every March, Coupeville hosts Penn Cove Musselfest – a three-day festival featuring mussel eating competitions, farm tours, activities, and a friendly chowder tasting competition. Originally started to encourage eating out during the off-season, the festival has turned into an event drawing 10,000 visitors to a town with a population one-fifth that number. In addition to the strong support from both residents and visitors, 100% of Coupeville restaurants participate in the chowder tasting competition.
The festival represents strong partnerships in the community. Restaurant owners used to finance the event until Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association (CHWA) took it over in 2007, offering to organize and finance the event. Penn Cove Shellfish added a mussel tasting beer and wine garden, and all profits are donated to the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club as well as the Coupeville High School Science Scholarship. The CHWA and Penn Cove Shellfish also provide fifty pounds of mussels, onions, and potatoes for the chowder tasting, Whidbey-SeaTac Shuttle provides free transportation and Puget Sound Express ferries visitors to Shellfish Farm for a tour and education on the environmental guidelines of farmed mussels.
The event also draws ten to twelve chefs who provide a series of free mussel cooking demonstrations for visitors. Chefs are recruited from Whidbey Island, Seattle, the greater Puget Sound area, and Portland.
The impact the event has on the community is significant. The restaurants and businesses in the four-block event area remain the focus of the weekend. Without street vendors, Musselfest becomes the best retail weekend of the year for merchants. The event also creates fundraising opportunities for the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club, the Island County Historical Museum, and the Coupeville High School Booster Club.
In 2015, the 10,000 visitors booked every hotel in the immediate area, north or south. Restaurants were filled to capacity, and many merchants had the best sales in their history. Attendees willingly waited in ferry lines for two to three hours to participate, and tickets were sold out in hours. In every regard, this event has gone above and beyond to boost shoulder season revenues for merchants.
“The community has truly embraced this event, and the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association has made it one of the biggest events of the year,” said Sarah Hansen, former Washington State Main Street Program Coordinator. “We are thrilled to be honoring such a long-standing event!”