Hob Nob

Harry Smith, market president for United Bank in Winchester, recalls the early days of Hob Nob in the Valley, a political mixer hosted by the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber.

WINCHESTER — It was 1999 when members of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber starting planning a local political mixer, but coming up with a name for it took some thought.

Harry Smith, market president for United Bank in Winchester, was serving on the chamber board and said the group chose a name that reflected what attendees would be doing.

“We’ll be hobnobbing, for lack of a better term,” he said about Hob Nob in the Valley, a political rally and public policy event that has become a popular campaign stop for local and state politicians

Held each year in late summer, Hob Nob is a chance for candidates from all political parties and members of the public to get together and talk about important issues.

The event’s venue has changed over the years — past locations include Lord Fairfax Community College and Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy — but the mission of connecting voters with candidates has not.

The chamber does not make any political endorsements.

For its 20th anniversary, Hob Nob will be held at John Handley High School from 5-8 p.m. on Sept. 13. This is the second year in a row the event has been held at the school. Tickets are $30 per person, which includes a barbecue dinner.

Local and state candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot have been invited to attend.

Smith said Hob Nob was originally envisioned as an outdoor event similar to the annual Shad Planking held near the James River in Sussex County every April, where politicians show up to court voters. At Hob Nob, politicians would instead come to the northern Shenandoah Valley to be “in the woods.”

The first Hob Nob at Willow Brook Farm “was hot and there were lots of bugs,” Smith recalled. Some people wore coats and ties, which wasn’t great considering the weather, he said.

Over the next few years, the event gained political traction, with politicians such as former Republican 10th District Rep. Frank Wolf making appearances.

About 300 people usually attend.

Hob Nob eventually introduced a straw poll vote, with guests casting ballots in each upcoming November race. The straw poll continues today.

Despite being open to all political parties, local Democrats in recent years grew averse to the event, believing the results of the straw poll vote were skewed to favor Republicans. Last year, the Winchester-Frederick County Democratic Committee declined to participate, choosing instead to focus on its annual Rally in the Valley.

Blue Ridge Democratic Women President Suzanne Conrad, who is a member of the Hob Nob planning committee, said she and other chamber members have worked hard to get local Democrats involved in the event again.

“Democrats are extremely supportive of the event this year,” Conrad said.

Smith said the straw poll was instituted as a way to get political parties to rally attendance for Hob Nob, which is a fundraiser for the chamber, and to potentially drive more press coverage. He said it was never meant to dominate the event.

Hob Nob is about “community, networking and business,” Smith said.

He thinks the event will continue to grow and evolve, but he’d like to see it held outside again.

Tickets for Hob Nob can be purchased at regionalchamber.biz/hob-nob-in-the-valley.

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at ocastiglia@winchesterstar.com

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