Jerry and Jane Blanchard just moved to Altus in July and hadn’t spent much time in downtown Altus.
In fact, they said going to the Cotton Pickin’ Chili Cookoff gave them an excuse to explore the downtown area while also babysitting their granddaughter, Emma.
“This is a fun event,” Jane Blanchard said. “I found stores that I didn’t know about and I wasn’t aware of the really nice boutiques that are here.”
Members of the Main Street Altus organization launched the event with that in mind 23 years ago. Amy Jo Cobb, program manager for Main Street Altus, said the event also brought people in the community together while celebrating the rich farming heritage of the area.
Forty-seven vendors set up booths around the downtown square and 43 of them offered a taste of chili while trying to persuade participants to vote for them as the People’s Choice Chili. That award went to NBC Oklahoma. In fact, NBC Bank won two other top awards. NBC Oklahoma won the Grand BBQ award and NBC Oklahoma won the top salsa award for “Boot Stompin’ Salsa.”
The Grand Chili award, the most coveted award, went to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
The event raises money to fund Main Street Altus. Cobb said the volunteers set a $6,000 goal but the organizers are still counting the money to determine whether they met the goal. Cookoff participants paid $20 to enter the chili contest and salsa competitors paid $5 to enter. People bought tasting kits that included a small cup and spoon to taste different vendors’ chili.
Besides the tasting, the event allows people like the Blanchards to explore downtown.
Lisa Worrell, owner of The Enchanted Door, which sells antiques and collectibles, said the day usually generates a lot of foot traffic but not necessarily more sales. “It brings in people who have never been in here before,” she said.
Even though Jim Johnson moved his vacuum cleaner shop to another location, he served chili in front of Johnson’s Vacuum Shop and Sewing Basket. His wife, Anita, still runs a quilt shop out of the 105 Commerce Street location.
They’ve been serving chili at the cookoff for at least 20 years.
Jim Johnson said he tastes the chili a lot while making it until it gets just right. “I don’t want to make it too hot because some people don’t like that,” he said.
Ironically, the Blair Community Foundation set up a booth to bring recognition to the town about 10 miles north of Altus on U.S. 283. Karen Downing, one of the organizers who served chili at its booth, said the foundation has a similar mission to Main Street Altus. It wants to preserve its heritage and help grow the community.
“We want it to be a place where our kids will want to come back to,” Downing said.