By Joshua Maloni
Early Thursday morning, the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce announced the annual Lewiston Smelt Festival was alive and well thanks to the addition of two new event sponsors: DiMino Tops Lewiston and Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. The May 1 festival kicks off Lewiston's slate of summer programming and serves as a fundraiser for the Niagara River Anglers Association.
"I've been a big supporter of the Anglers Association," Tops owner Anthony DiMino said. He noted the fishing industry "benefits the Village of Lewiston more than I think anybody realizes. ... That industry is an industry that works for this village 52 weeks a year, seven days a week."
The Smelt Festival will relocate from North Water Street to South Water Street. Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours owner John Kinney offered the parking lot in front of his two waterfront buildings - Water Street Landing, which will offer additional food and beverages, and 65 Center St., which offers new, top-notch bathrooms and a porch area for the event musicians.
"I've kind of associated the Smelt Festival with the official start of the boating season," Kinney said. "I really don't fully understand the politics that made the move necessary, but that's not here nor there. Clearly this is an event that the chamber supports and promotes, and as a member of the chamber it wasn't too much of an imposition for me to make the side of the parking lot available."
"Even though our building at 65 Center St., is a work in progress, the new balconies that we put on there should be a great venue for the band to play for the festivalgoers down below," he added.
The Smelt Festival was in doubt following the loss of a major sponsor, The Silo Restaurant. Eatery proprietor Alan Hastings and the chamber could not come to an agreement over event costs (tents, in particular) or marketing initiatives. Moreover, Hastings said it would be very difficult to open his restaurant for the season while at the same time hosting a festival that draws hundreds to the waterfront.
He opted out of the event almost two weeks ago. Chamber President Jennifer Pauly was tasked with finding a new location one month before the event was scheduled to happen.
Pauly was out of town Thursday, but wrote in a press release, "We are happy to once again organize this annual festival for the Niagara River Anglers and the Village of Lewiston. This festival brings in many people to the Village of Lewiston, rain or shine, and wouldn't be made possible without the support of Anthony DiMino, DiMino's Tops Markets, as well as Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours."
DiMino said it's important to have the event and support the anglers.
"To see that festival being kind of footballed around kind of got me not happy at all," he said. "So I felt that we needed to make sure that we still had it."
The Lewiston Smelt Festival begins at 5 p.m. Friday, May 1. Anglers will begin deep-frying the tasty tiny fish about 6 p.m.
Follow Joshua Maloni on Twitter @joshuamaloni