The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

October 19, 2013

WaterFire folks deserve kudos for their great efforts

By Lynn Saternow

- — Congratulation to the organizers of the WaterFire events that thrilled thousands of people this year with three different days in downtown Sharon.

It was great to see the number of people who flocked to the city to enjoy the festivities. People came from many outside areas to view the lighting of the fires on the Shenango River, a sight only before seen in big cities.

For me it brought back memories of the great Bavarian Fun Fest at Three By The River and the huge crowds that gathered then.

The response was extremely favorable from everyone I talked with and many were looking forward to next year’s events.

My wife’s brother Jon and his wife Judy were in town for the last show and enjoyed touring the town and taking in the various booths. Judy is a renowned artist in South Dakota, so the two of them checked out the many artists’ wares.

As the WaterFire committee looks toward the future, the only recommendation I would have is: Less is more.

Three different days may be reaching a little bit in future years. The third day this year was far down from the first gathering. And in future years, since many people have already seen it, there could be another drop-off.

Maybe one huge day, or two, would be better and won’t wear out the welcome of what is a tremendous affair.

While WaterFire brought a lot of people into the city, it’s still to be determined the long-term effect. But like with the movie baseball field built in a cornfield in Iowa, it is proven that “If you build it, they will come!”

Therefore the Sharon city leaders might want to consider how nice it was to close off State Street to traffic and make it only a walking area. If you set up small kiosks and even at times provide entertainment in downtown or a daily or periodic basis, it would have to attract people just as WaterFire does. And it would encourage businesses to move back into the city.

Sharon missed the boat in the 1970s when that kind of idea was recommended by a planner. However, the business owners put up a big fuss that they needed parking on State Street so city council didn’t follow the plan.

And because of that, the city took a huge downturn as malls grabbed the business.

If you want to attract customers you have to give them something that is unique. Innovation is important in business.

People go to the outlet malls in Springfield Township by the droves and are willing to walk around outside. It could be even better in Sharon with beautiful flower planters in the street and sidewalk vendors offering an ambiance not found elsewhere.

And if you get the Columbia Theatre up and running again it would add another great facility to go along with the James E. Winner Jr. Arts and Cultural Center.

For an area that was once ranked last in the country in culture by Rand McNally, we have come a long way. But we can go a lot farther.

It will take some creative people like the WaterFire supporters who are willing to take a chance to move this area forward.

Of course money would help.

The Herald’s Lynn Saternow writes this column each Saturday for the Opinion Page. He can be reached at