Southern NH Expo is slated for Oct. 18

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Staff Writer

MILFORD – Where, in the Souhegan Valley, could you fit:

A NASCAR car from Gate City Collision.

A dragster from the New Hampshire Raceway.

A trailer from Greater Nashua Medical.

A bouncy house.

The MacAuliffe Planetarium’s Discovery Dome.

One place: The Hampshire Dome at Hampshire Hills Sports and Fitness Center and for May Balsama, executive director of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce, it is the existence of the Dome that allows the Chamber to do so much with its upcoming Southern New Hampshire Expo 2012 on Oct. 18 from 2-7:30 p.m.

“There’s no other place to put them,” she said last week, speaking of things like the cars and the Discovery Dome, all of which will be featured at the Expo. “The expanse and the convenience of having a venue like this is amazing and allows us to do all kinds of things we would never be able to attempt.”

Rick Holder, who owns Hampshire Hills, appreciates that point of view and, as a local businessman, believes that Expo is important to the region, to the business community, and to his Dome.

“Every year we see tangible growth as word spreads about the Expo,” he said recently. “Exhibitors and visitors alike are coming from locations farther and farther away. The new visitors are amazed at how much bigger than other Expos our Expo is.”

Part of the reason it has reached the size it has is the Dome. Without it, the Expo would have to move out of the Souhegan Valley to find a place big enough to house its success, something the Chamber doesn’t want to do and doesn’t have to do.

“Many people are surprised that the largest open hall north of Boston is in Milford,” Holder said.

Expo isn’t the only major event the Dome has hosted.

“Hampshire Hills and the Hampshire Dome are (telling about) many successful large events that have been held here, from four U.S. presidents to four Budweiser Clydesdales,” he said, “from the largest camping and boat shows in Northern New England’s history to demonstrations of the Irish game of hurling, barrel vaulting, even indoor half marathons.

“We are letting the world know that we do really big things here in Milford and we can help design, set up and run a marvelously successful event of nearly any kind and size.”

Balsama would agree, but it’s more than just the space, she said. It’s the feel of the Dome.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re in a convention hall,” Balsama said. “The warmth of grass and light makes it feel like spring time all the time. “It’s not walking on a cement floor, so it’s very comfortable. It just gives you a feel of being under a circus tent atmosphere.”

This year’s Expo has attracted more than 200 exhibitors, the largest ever, and will include a great deal of entertainment for kids and adults – music, clowns, magicians – and plenty of food. It’s the kind of event, Balsama has said, where a family can actually eat dinner and have a great time, too.

Holder loves having the Expo in the Dome.

“To have all of these new faces see our facilities and see the area is a boon for all, of course, because everything is truly beautiful here and the exhibitors are fun, friendly and bring great exhibits to showcase,” he said.

The Expo gives consumers a chance to meet one-on-one with local business people, to actually interview a plumber or a car dealer or an insurance agent before going to their store or inviting them to their home.

“We give them an opportunity to sample what’s going on, see what there is for businesses and have a good time doing it,” Balsama said. “There really is something for everybody. Everything you could imagine is represented here.”

For kids, the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center will bring its Discovery Dome – a miniature planetarium – and there will be a bouncy house. Clowns and magicians will be around and there will be lots of music.

One of the primary missions of Expo is to let the public know what they can get locally.

“This is an opportunity to let businesses really showcase what they do,” she said. “One of the fun things that I see here every day are the ‘Aha!’ moments when I’m talking with someone about businesses and I can see the light dawn in someone’s eyes when they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think I could get that here.’ We have an incredible business community that can provide a number of the services that a lot of people have looked elsewhere for and that’s one of the things that the Expo does: showcase that.”

But fun is still the key for families who attend, Balsama believes.

“The entertainment will be great,” she said, mentioning the Kathy Blake dancers, a high school jazz band, a Beatles impersonator and, of course, the food samples.

“For the $6 cost of admission, you pretty much could eat dinner there that night,” she said.

And she just loves the Hampshire Dome.

“It’s a great venue because you really feel as if you’re walking on grass,” said Balsama. “It’s not walking on a cement floor, so it’s very comfortable. It just gives you a feel of being under a circus tent atmosphere.”

She calls the day a great chance for people to come and meet their neighbors – those in business and those in the Dome for a good time.

“This is your business community,” she said, “a business community that supports your sports teams, a business community that donates to your charity auctions. It’s a chance to meet them face-to-face and to find out what’s here so you can do business locally.”

Michael Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 301 or

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