Walla Walla leads for 'friendliest' in online contest for small towns

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Walla Walla is leading the pack in the nationwide contest to find America's friendliest small town. But now the online contest that could put the community on a "Best of the Road" map has been extended.

Voting will run until May 30.

The contest is put on by a partnership between Rand McNally, USA Today and Destination Marketing Association International. It is a vehicle to promote Small Town USA through a consumer-oriented destination competition. Twenty communities voted on by the people will be visited through a road rally adventure to narrow down winners.

Among the categories for the "best" towns: most beautiful, most patriotic, most fun and best for food. As of this morning, Walla Walla was leading the fifth category, "friendliest," with 202 votes. Consumers had also uploaded more than 100 photos of the community.

Communities that qualify for the contest must have fewer than 150,000 residents. Teams of amateur travelers will be dispatched throughout the country to visit the top vote-getting communities in a three-week trek. Winners will be announced July 21 during the Destination Marketing Association International's annual convention in New Orleans.

To vote, visit www.bestoftheroad.com .

The Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce will welcome new downtown tenant Mirage Pool 'n' Spa with a ribbon-cutting and grand-opening event Thursday.

The business, located on the corner of Alder Street and Second Avenue, will feature specials to mark its grand opening through June 12.

According to the company's web site, the Tri-Cities-based business was started by Chad Simmonds and Jon Rettig in 2004. The staff has more than 35 years experience in the pools and spas.

Mirage offers custom pools, spas and saunas, a selection of patio accessories, including outdoor kitchens and grills, billiard tables and pool accessories. The store is open seven days a week.

Thursday's event starts at 4 p.m., with a ribbon-cutting at 4:30. Refreshments will be offered. For more information, call 529-3500.

Waterbrook Winery's John Freeman has been selected as winemaker for the 2011 Legends of Washington Wine celebration.

Each year the Legends celebration features a special blend showcasing Washington wine and the talents of one of the state's winemakers, according to an announcement Tuesday.

Freeman, winemaker for Waterbrook, has selected a Malbec-based wine sourced from one of Waterbrook's estate vineyards for the event. The wine sourced from Canyon Ranch near Prosser is intended to pay tribute to the ongoing discovery and potential that define Washington, the release explained.

Freeman moved to the Walla Walla Valley in 2002 after 12 years in California at Franciscan Estate and then at Miner Family. He was raised in Napa Valley.

The Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame celebration is the annual fundraising program in support of the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center. It will take place Aug. 12 and includes the announcement of the 2011 Legends inductee, live and silent auctions, sampling and purchase of the 2011 Legends red wine.

Strictly Business is a local business column. Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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