MATTOON -- The annual Business Expo at the Cross County Mall on Thursday is set to feature more exhibitor booths and Taste of the Expo food sample booths.

The Mattoon Chamber of Commerce plans to hold the expo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the food sample event from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The expo also will include local industry displays, live music, a blood drive and more.

Executive Director Ed Dowd said the number of exhibitor booths has increased to 54 this year, up from 48 in 2016. He said new exhibitors include Back to Health, Copper Creek Cottages Memory Care, Jake's Carpet, Mattoon Area Family YMCA, Mattoon Public Library Modest Apparel, Meadowview Golf Course, Pelican Signs, and the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center gift shop.

Dowd said Sarah Bush Lincoln's shop is well liked by those who visit the health center, so the Chamber has invited the shop to bring its selection of gift items out into the community.

"We thought it would be nice for people who don't always go to the hospital," Dowd said.

Many booths will offer interactive exhibits, such Meadowview's mini putting green. A full list of the exhibitors can be viewed at www.mattoonchamber.com.

Dowd said the number of Taste of the Expo booths has increased from 11 to 14 this year. He said new vendors this year include Casey's General Store, Crave Coffee & Cafe, Mattoon Golf & Country Club, and Osaka Sushi & Steakhouse.

The new entries will join returning booths from Don Sol Mexican Grill, Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Great Food & Spirits, Hunan Fine Asian Cuisine, Kep's Cooking, Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken, Mark's My Store, Pauly's BBQ, Stadium Grill, and Walmart. Dowd said the increased number of vendors will help shorten the lines for samples and offer a wider variety of fare.

"You know you are going to have an awesome meal on Thursday," Dowd said. "No one is going away hungry."

Entry to the Taste is $5 for five tastings. Tickets can be purchased in advance through 5 p.m. today at the Chamber office, 1518 Broadway Ave., or on Thursday at the Taste, across from Carson's in the mall. Dowd said the Chamber sold 483 tickets last year and has printed 750 tickets this year in anticipation of a bigger turnout.

Overflow seating will be available in the corridor behind the Taste space. In addition, a nearby storefront will be set aside for dining exhibitors.

"That is a good time to network with them while they are eating at the Taste," Dowd said.

The expo's Our Town Gallery will once again showcase displays about local industry. Dowd said the gallery is an opportunity for visitors to learn about products that are made in and shipped out of Mattoon. For example, he said BOCK'S Identi Comapny creates identification tags for livestock that are used worldwide.

Live music will be provided during the expo. The main stage lineup features Ron Easter, 11 a.m.; Rev. Robert, noon; Julia Whitmore, 1 p.m.; and Dale Von Behrens, 2 p.m. The Taste's lineup features Ellen Stitt, 11:30 a.m.; and Brad Brown, 12:30 p.m.

In conjunction with the expo, the Chamber plans to host a Community Blood Services of Illinois blood drive. The Blood Mobile will be available from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the mall parking lot. Sarah Bush Lincoln's Mobile Mammography vehicle will be on site, as well.

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