by Joshua Maloni
Lewiston has taken the first step in winning a spot in the Rand McNally-USA Today 2012 Best Small Towns in America list. Thanks to the efforts of grassroots volunteers, Lewiston netted 806 votes to win the online portion of the "Best for Food" category.
"We won the online voting contest decisively," said volunteer Lee Simonson. The second highest vote getter was Burnsville, Minn., with 580 votes.
While the victory is sweet, Simonson said it is only part of the formula that will determine the ultimate "Best for Food" winner. Rand McNally and USA Today also will consider the quality of reviews and the opinion of traveling judges.
"In my opinion, we're halfway there," Simonson said.
With regard to the reviews, voters were encouraged to say why they were casting a ballot for a particular place. Simonson said Lewiston's reviews were "excellent" and "outstanding" and listed, in detail, why Lewiston's culinary offerings reign supreme.
"It's hard to find ... a style of food that you don't like," Simonson said.
That Lewiston has more than two-dozen eateries within one square-mile - everything from barbecue to Italian - is "amazing," he said.
The final category involves in-person visits by a pair of judges. If Lewiston is selected to receive such exploration, two panelists will visit sometime after June 15.
Simonson said Lewiston has an advantage here, as well. While other towns and cities used professional marketing agencies to promote their wares, "Rand McNally knows this (Lewiston campaign) was a 100 percent volunteer effort," he said.
Unpaid locals, with nothing more than pride for Lewiston, took time to register and vote online for what they deem "Best for Food."
"I can only tell you that Rand McNally was very impressed," Simonson said. "I think that's going to be a big plus for us."
Jon DiBernardo, owner of Water Street Landing in the Village of Lewiston, said "it would be great to win" the "Best for Food" competition. Regardless of the final outcome, however, he said inclusion in this national conversation is already a victory.
"Lewiston is worth (the visit)," he said. "Everybody that comes here raves about what a great place it is."
"We have a great community of restaurants," DiBernardo said.
The 2012 Best Small Towns in America list of finalists will be printed in the May 25 edition of USA Today. For more information, visit http://www.bestoftheroad.com.
Winning locations will be included in the Rand McNally "Best of the Road" travel guides and in the Rand McNally road atlas.