Families warm to ice carving demonstrations in downtown Wheaton
She had no audience or photographer, but in the middle of downtown Wheaton, 9-year-old Abby Templin had to strike a pose, a princess pose.
Hands on hip, head tilted, just the right amount of sass, and Abby perfectly impersonated Disney's "it" princess, Elsa, standing next to her in life-size -- and frozen form -- at Wheaton's first ice festival Saturday. Elsa started as a 48-inch-tall, 20-inch-wide hunk of ice and transformed into a shimmering sculpture, one of dozens that will stand outside downtown businesses and restaurants, at least until they melt.
Selfies, obviously, were encouraged.
"The kids just love this," said Paula Barrington, the head of the Downtown Wheaton Association.
The group wanted a way to bring shoppers and diners to the downtown in January, a slow time for businesses after the holiday shopping rush, and looked at other winter events in the 'burbs for inspiration. Barrington hopes to expand the inaugural event with more sculptures and jokes that the name -- Ice3 (cubed) Fest -- may take some time to catch on if you're not a math whiz.
"People get cabin fever after the holiday season," Barrington said. "Let's give families a reason to come to downtown Wheaton for the afternoon."
Dennis Thorfeldt, who lives a couple of blocks away, noticed an uptick in downtown visitors. Businesses also offered specials like River City Roasters' $1 coffee and the Ivy Restaurant's ice bar.
"Normally we don't see this much (business) on a cold day," the Wheaton man said.
Saturday's relatively mild temperatures brought a steady crowd of families to Front and Main streets for live demonstrations by Jim Bringas, who used a chain saw and woodworking tools to intricately carve the blocks of ice, each sculpture taking about an hour. The finishing touch? A propane torch, to add shine and melt shavings.
"You know you have something when you can capture that 12- to 18-year-old that'll stop and watch and be intrigued," he said. "When you can capture their attention, you know you have something."
He managed to impress Abby, who could've easily been a tough critic, her grandma says. Abby was visiting from Colorado, where winter-themed events are routine.
"It was really beautiful," Mare Fyock said. "We loved it -- everything."