The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

December 1, 2013

Shoppers rediscover the city’s downtown

Holiday kickoff expands into daylong event

By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — Sharon’s DownTown ShopAround didn’t get the balmy summer breezes that warmed visitors during WaterFire festivals. But the skies were clear on Saturday and groups of shoppers greeted the combination of Small Business Saturday and Night of Lights in a festive mood.

“I’m looking for things or stockings,” Cathy Merrill said, “and I’ll know it when I see it.”

The Sharon resident was among three dozen browsers and buyers inside Gallery 29 where the work of 86 artists, artisans and crafters was on sale.

Shoppers could pick among paintings, photographs, ceramics and silk scarves.

Shenango Valley native Jenn Crisan, a painter who lives in Liberty and has her studio in Warren, Ohio, set up her work alongside that of Girard, Ohio, metal sculptor Daniel Horne.

Shoppers peppered them both with questions, seeming to like Crisan’s landscapes in acrylic on wood, some of which captured the dark moods of winter light.

“It’s been a good week for both of us,” said the graduate of what was known as Kennedy Christian High School in Hermitage. “Downtown struggled for a long time and was dead, really. People seem to be supporting the new focus on the arts and I hope that continues.”

In the last year, 15 new businesses opened their doors downtown.

Shoppers collected signatures as they went from store to store, hoping to qualify for prize drawings linked to the promotion that invited people to stay into the evening.

Horne found fans – and buyers – for his “kinetic” sculptures made of metal and sometimes featuring stones. All of them move, some rocking and some swiveling on a pivot that let one piece of the construction rotate around its base.

“It’s all scrap steel from scrapyards in northeastern Ohio,” he said of the pieces fashioned from bits of round and square tubing, angles, plate and railroad spikes.

Mental health counseling earns Horne his living and principles useful in his work find an expression in his art which imparts movement and grace to steel and stone.

“This is a reflection of my vocation,” he said of the objects he makes that would fit comfortably on a desk or table. “It’s important in life to find balance.”

Hot Tuscan potato soup seemed important and delicious to shoppers like Meyrel Foltz when she bought a bowl for her daughter from a table set up a couple of blocks away by Buhl Community Recreation Center.

Joe Grasso, a club volunteer, made the chicken stock that was the soul of his soup, but his customers forking over five bucks to benefit kids’ recreation savored his soup as much for its diced carrots and potatoes, bacon and pepper flakes that made it just a little spicy.

“Say ‘cheeseburger,’ ” Lucinda McCurdy cooed to her grandson, as he posed for a picture near the trolley stop where visitors could get a free ride throughout the downtown district.

Three-year-old Maddox grinned and said, “cheeseburger, Werger, Werger,” happy to be prompted to pronounce his last name and make his grandmother smile in return.

Nearby, Sharon High School’s Chamber Singers sang “Carol of the Bells,” “Gloria in Excelsis,” and other Christmas music. Ice sculptors Jeff Kaiser and Eric Freay set up their display, chipping and shaping designs while spectators watched.

In addition to offering products for sale, many businesses were serving treats like hot chocolate or cookies. Churches and school groups were selling snacks on the street.

“There’s a lot of talent in Sharon and Shenango Valley,” said Mary Hasson of Hermitage. She and her friend, Colleen Chamberlain of New Castle, said they were particularly interested in supporting local businesses as they shopped for Christmas presents.

Members of Valley Church, Hermitage, who were selling apple dumplings at State and Shenango Avenue said business “was a little slow” late in the afternoon. They hoped sales would pick up during Night of Lights festivities.

By sunset, more people were arriving for the evening’s music and caroling.

Lining State Street Bridge, they watched the lighting of festive fires in WaterFire braziers that had been stacked earlier in the day with billets of seasoned cedar and pine.

Flames from the fires warmed the chill air and helped to light the night with the spirit of the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas.