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By Joshua Maloni
Unlike the fish it's named for, which is tiny and landlocked, the Lewiston Smelt Festival is large and needs room to expand. On Tuesday, the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce was granted permission by the Village Board to move the May 3 event from the Lewiston waterfront into Academy Park.
“We’ve been meeting with our board to discuss how can we grow this festival,” Chamber President Jennifer Pauly told trustees.
She explained, “It’s a fun festival. It highlights Lewiston. All the businesses. Every single one of those businesses do well that weekend. You can go into any one and there’s a line out the door."
Restaurants benefit, too. “A lot of them get on board and sell smelt as part of their menu,” Pauly said. “It’s a good weekend for Lewiston. It really is. And that’s why we keep on doing it, is because it’s a community-centered event.”
While the merchants benefit, “We do not make any money on this festival. We lose money, to be honest with you,” Pauly said. “Everybody else has the opportunity to make money. We need to cover our staff time, we need to cover the cost of all of our supplies, the cost of the music, the band, the tables, the chairs – there’s a lot of costs that we absorb. We’re looking at ways to expand this festival. One of them would be to utilize, possibly, the (Academy Park) bandshell, to be able to do a food/smelt-eating contest.”
“This just gives you more room,” Trustee Dan Gibson said. He noted some people have been scared away by seeing the car-filled lots surrounding the Smelt Festival on First and Water streets. With more parking possibilities in and around Academy Park, “You’ll be able to draw more people.”
Pauly said, “There’s a lot that goes into it. We need to at least make money for staff time. The way we can do that is possibly extra vendors. Possibly entry fees for a food-eating contest. These are just things that we have to be able to do.”
She added, “We really took a look at all of our events to see what can we eliminate that’s not making money, not bringing in revenue, not doing what it’s supposed to. That’s one of them; but we’re going to keep it going, because it’s an important festival.”
While the Smelt Festival brings more people to Lewiston restaurants and retailers, it also serves as a fundraiser for the chamber’s event partner, the Niagara River Anglers Association. Funds generated through donations (smelt samples are free) go toward angler programs and activities within the community.
Pauly said that group is on board with the move.
Village board members joked the weather in Academy Park should be better than at the waterfront.
Pauly lamented, “Last year was a horrendous windstorm. The year before that was an awful rainstorm. We’ve had weather not on our side.
“This year, if we were able to move into Academy Park, our office is right there. We would be able to utilize some of the bandshell. We’d be able to have electricity there. If weather permits, we would be able to park people on that property. And it just gives us a little bit more room to do more things.”
Mayor Anne Welch said, “I agree. Hopefully it will be successful this year.”
Lewiston Smelt Festival moving to Academy Park
Rite-Aid plaza could see new traffic pattern; Grandpaws closing in February
Around the Village
•A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, to discuss switching the Center Street (Rite-Aid) Plaza entrance and egress. Currently, the exit is next to the Lewiston Stone House. With the bar’s growing popularity, trustees said it’s become more difficult to inch out and see oncoming traffic, or people walking on the sidewalk. As such, an idea was presented to move the exit back to the Orange Cat Coffee Co. side of the plaza. The entrance would then be next to the Stone House.
•Grandpaws Pet Emporium announced its closing on Facebook earlier this week. The popular pet store moved to the corner of Center and North Fourth streets in mid-2014.
The online post stated the growth of online pet food sites, paired with competition from “big box” stores and supermarkets, was a detriment. Parking, or a lack thereof, also was cited as an obstacle.
Grandpaws thanked its customers for a decade of support, and noted a closing sale will be held until the store shuts on Saturday, Feb. 9.
The Sentinel reached out to Grandpaws for additional information, but management declined to comment. More details can be found at www.facebook.com/Grandpaws/.