Last Saturday morning under sunny blue skies, seven 5-to-8-year-old girls in frilly dresses beamed smiles and giggled as they boarded the Bayo’s Ice Funmobile to ride in the West Pittston Cherry Blossom Festival parade. The Little Miss Cherry Blossom contestants in Bayo’s vehicle — a 1950 Ford pickup truck with a colorful canopy over its open air bed — is the centerpiece of the annual parade, which kicked off the 47th annual two-day event.
“I’m so thankful to Bayo’s,” parade committee chairman Ralph Salerno said. “The parade is getting smaller every year and I do appreciate those who do come back every year. The district attorney is always one of the first to respond.”
Salerno said the Little League used to be largest parade division, but Little League participation is declining. “And,” he said, “no Rams.” The West Pittston Rams Junior Football Program disbanded after the 2016 season.
Also both the Wyoming Area and Pittston Area high school bands were in a competition out of the area on Saturday. Solano said he hopes to get a military band for next year.
Once the parade reached the Cherry Blossom Festival grounds, attention turned to the stage where Gina Malsky, entertainment director, introduced general chairman Pat Messina. He thanked the Boy Scouts and volunteers for getting the festival site cleaned of debris left by the ice flood in January. He then introduced Parade Grand Marshall Jim Manganiello, saying Manganiello asked if he had to wear a coat and tie as grand marshal. “I told him wear whatever you want,” Messina said.
Appropriately, Manganiello chose a Moose Little League team jersey. He’s the team’s manager. Manganiello has been a Little League volunteer for decades. He got a laugh when he mentioned all the volunteering he does in youth sports and said, “People ask me why do I do it. Why? I do it for the money,” he joked.
Next up were the Little Miss Cherry Blossom contestants and the reigning Little Miss, Mia Bovani, who hurried from her own First Holy Communion to make the parade. Lilly Nardone, 7, a Wyoming Area student, was crowned the 2018 Little Miss. She’ll reign over the 2019 fest.
As singers, dancers and bands performed throughout the day, the weather held up and the festival drew an estimated 2,000 visitors. An impressive crowd considering the fest was bucking two local First Communions, an invitational track meet, a high school softball game, Cinco de Mayo, the Kentucky Derby and a patio grand opening at SBC Brewery.
At the food ticket tent, Toni Valenti said more food tickets were sold on Saturday than on both days last year.
Messina agreed. He estimated the Boy Scouts sold more than $7,000 worth of food on Saturday. Talking on Sunday he said, “Yesterday was one of the best in years. Last year it was cold, rainy and muddy. We’re happy because it helps pay for camp for Boy Scouts. I remember when we would be worn out, tired and disgusted because of the weather. Yesterday (we were) worn out, tired and happy.”
The vendors appreciated the Saturday weather. Five-year vendor Sara Mazzitelli, of Blue Elephant Cake Pops, said, “Last year I had a jacket and a blanket. It was much better this year.”
First United Methodist Church of West Pittston added a new wrinkle to their Welsh cookies sale booth — a basket of sample pieces. They sold 200 dozen on Saturday.
Tracy Cox, of Boshi’s Gourmet Apples in Plymouth, was happy with Saturday. “A lot more people than last year and we were happy with the sales,” she said.
Lori Rager, The Essential Apothecary, was a first-year vendor. She makes her own natural bath and body care products. “Traffic was good,” she said. “Sales not so much.”
Deb Villano, of Luzerne, operates Deb’s Selections, a veteran Cherry Fest vendor of stainless steal jewelry, collectibles and novelties. She also had copies of a children’s book by her daughter, Cassie Lennox. She said Saturday’s business was comparable to good weather festival days in the past.
Outside the main tent, but under cover of their own tent, Cassidy Jones and her partner Brendan, first-year vendors of matted photographs, mostly country and urban landscapes, including some from a recent trip to Ireland, did well. “Yeah we did good. We had good luck. There was a steady line of people all day until 5, 5-30.”
Despite the rainy weather Sunday, the grounds were far from empty.
“We played on until the end,” Malsky said. “People sat under tents and umbrellas, ate, listened to the bands. I thought it was good.”