The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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August 12, 2013

Ripple effect seen downtown from flames upon water

WaterFire Sharon is success on many levels, business owners, officials says

SHARON — A week after WaterFire Sharon sparked an amazing blaze in the Shenango Valley, people are stoked for the next two events this year.

"We're having WaterFire withdrawal," volunteer Tony Delgros said.

The Aug. 3 event drew more people than anyone imagined. Organizers have been saying 35,000 came to the event, but no official headcount was done or scientific calculation made.

Regardless of the exact number who reveled in the day-long, family-friendly arts and cultural festival, it was a success.

"It just turned out better than anybody thought," Delgros said. "Nobody can believe that many people showed up."

"If anyone wasn't listening to us before, they're going to be paying attention to us now," he said.

Downtown businesses benefited from the increased traffic, those interviewed this weekend said.

"I really was very impressed," Jacque Abrutz, who owns the Korner News said.

She would have closed at 3 p.m., but decided to extend her hours because there also was a $300 million Powerball jackpot luring customers in.

"We did OK," she said.

She was impressed by the event once she left that night to enjoy it herself.

"I thought Sharon really looked nice," she said. "It was fantastic."

All of the businesses on East State Street were busy, their workers said.

"We had them out the door," Elaine Davis, who works as a clerk at Niko and Lou's Coney Island restaurant, said.

"It was crazy in here," Amanda Cowan, sales manager of The Winner fashion store, said. "We did really well."

"It was artistic and beautiful and really classy," Mary James, a co-owner of Clarencedale Cakes said.

Newer businesses such as Gallery 29, owned by Donna Bostardi, also benefited from the event."The exposure was priceless," Bostardi said. "We had 600 people come through here. Sales were good and the whole experience was wonderful."

City officials agreed.

"To say that WaterFire was a success is an understatement," Sharon City Manager Scott Andrejchak said. "I think you could judge the success of the event on a lot of different levels."

Andrejchak believes the onslaught of 35,000 people into downtown Sharon caused a ripple effect for businesses in downtown and in the region.

"There were economic impacts we can't imagine yet," Andrejchak said. "Businesses all over the valley felt the impact."

City officials and residents agreed that WaterFire was a safe and fun family event.

"It was incredible." Andrejchak said. "It was a very special event for people who were there."

Sharon police reported no problems with fighting or disorderly conduct.

"The only problem we had was traffic and parking," Michael Menster, Sharon police chief, said. "We had relatively few problems."

A slow-moving, very long train was the culprit of a major traffic jam, according to Menster. Sharon police had extra patrolmen on duty directing traffic.

Andrejchak believes this will not be a problem as the police are contacting the railway to postpone or cancel train crossings through downtown Sharon for future WaterFire events.

The next WaterFire Sharon lightings will be Sept. 14 and Oct. 12.

The Penn State Shenango campus opened its doors for WaterFire planning meetings and parking.

There were a lot of faculty and staff who participated in WaterFire, according to Liz Izenas, public relations spokesman for the campus.

Downtown Sharon has been changing over the past two years. There is a lot of positive energy downtown. Having WaterFire has created positive energy. Andrejchak said.

"The event has branded itself as a family friendly event." he said.

"I think when they announced the open-container policy, it set a precedent," Izenas said, referring to a crackdown on alcoholic beverages in public during the annual Small  Ships Revue downtown earlier this summer.

"This could bring a sea change to downtown," Andrejchak said.

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