It began, as many good things do, with a vague idea by a local political leader. Or perhaps it began at the urging of an involved community member and business owner. Or perhaps from the creativity powers of an artist refusing to settle for less. Or just possibly, like a great many great things, with a group of friends musing around a campfire partially inspired by adult beverages.
In this case – “Romantic Willimantic” – the good and great thing was born of a conjoining of ideas, instigation, creativity, and a powerful campfire.
Willimantic, CT, is famous for many things, including its Boom Box Parade its frog bridge, its Town Cupid, its Chocolate Festival, and most of all for a tee shirt and expression born in 1980: Romantic Willimantic. In many ways, this expression has become the town’s unofficial brand.
Interviews with Rick Nassiff (past co-owner of Nassiff’s For Sports), Roger Adams (president of Windham Region Chamber of Commerce), and Larry Wasiele (animal and portrait artist) teased the facts from the urban legend of the origin of Romantic Willimantic – as best as facts 33 years old can be recalled and corroborated.
In 1980, Willimantic was its own municipality with its own governing structure. Mayor John Lescoe was interested in a slogan that would burnish the image of Willimantic. Meanwhile, Rick Nassiff had a mental view of some of the iconic buildings of Willimantic, and he shared the concept with artist Larry Wasiele, who was working at Nassiff’s for Sports at the time. Around a late summer fire, weaving poetry and conversation, Roger Adams and friends came up with, “Isn’t it romantic to spend time in Willimantic?” This line eventually evolved to “Isn’t it romantic to be in Willimantic?” When the words were presented to Nassiff and Wasiele, the simply took up too much space on the image. No one is exactly sure who abbreviated the expression, but “Romantic Willimantic” was born.
Some three dozen or so tee shirts were printed and passed around the community, but they quickly became a highly sought commodity. The expression and the visual caught the eyes of local media (Hartford news) and eventually even UPI and the New York Times ran stories. Meanwhile, the shirts were making their way across the country and around the world. The image was copyrighted, and an additional 50,000 (and one source said 100,000) shirts were printed in that year alone.
Over the course of the remainder of 1980 and 1981, the grassroots movement took hold in Willimantic. The community members who embraced (and continue to embrace) the city of Willimantic took Romantic Willimantic and ran with it – and some would say the expression ran with them. In 1982, the first official town Cupid (Wayne Norman) was chosen, and later that year marched ceremoniously in the Boom Box Parade. The expression eventually led to its brand in the community, to the point where currently the Chocolate Festival and other civic events are celebrated.
Romantic Willimantic. An expression – and a sentiment of community – embraced and adopted. From ideas circulating among many people to fruition to a town celebration.
This article is written by Peter Leeds, a real estate agent with CG Real Estate in North Windham. Peter also serves as athletic director and soccer coach at Parish Hill Middle / High School in Chaplin. That said, he insists that he is Peter Leeds Not Just The Sports Guy. He is in fact Peter Leeds CT Real Estate. He can be reached at 860-377-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Still a relative newcomer to the town, Peter Leeds has lived in Willimantic for more than three decades and is a fan of and cheerleader for the little city of Willimantic and the town of Windham as well.
In answer to some questions that may be asked by students or staff of the University of Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut State University, and / or Quinebaug Valley Community College, Willimantic is not just the frog bridge town. It is one of the four communities that comprise the town of Windham: The villages of Windham Center, North Windham, and South Windham and the city of Willimantic. Willimantic is also famous as “Romantic Willimantic” and for its Boom Box Parade and Victorian Days Home Tours. It is also home of one of the few brew pubs in Connecticut (Willimantic Brewing Company) and one of the very few storefront food co-ops (Willimantic Food Co-op). It is also a city of four bridges, including Garden on the Bridge, the Willimantic Footbridge (the longest single span east of the Mississippi), and of course, Thread City Crossing (aka the frog bridge).
The real estate company that Peter Leeds works for, CG Real Estate, is a rapidly expanding independent real estate firm, with offices in North Windham, Salem, and Berlin. CG Real Estate is one of Connecticut’s most successful short sale experts. CG Real Estate agents also are expert in assisting students or staff of the University of Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut State University, and / or Quinebaug Valley Community College with their home sale or purchase or finding just the right rental to suit their needs.