Johnstown Harvest Festival draws downtown folks

Watching the Johnstown Harvest Festival costume parade through the town center on Saturday reminded Jessica Henry McClements why the annual event is worth all the effort it takes to put it on.

“I see the kids walking down the street in the parade, in all their costumes, and it almost brings tears to my eyes because I’m so happy to see it all,” she said.

McClements, owner of women’s clothing boutique McLemon, is president of the Downtown Johnstown Business & Professional Association, which organizes the annual Harvest Festival, an event that highlights downtown Johnstown with family-themed decorations. Halloween and fall, food, tricks or treats at participating businesses, live music by Gary VanSlyke, and family-oriented games and activities.

“This event is good for our community, and it brings people downtown, and because it’s right before the holiday season starts, it’s a great way to get people here and their remember that we exist, these little little businesses are there,” she said. . “The town of Johnstown is very special and has a lot to offer people who visit us,” she said. “We are a city that has been shrinking for years and years and years, for decades we have been shrinking. Look what happened with (the closure of two of the city’s elementary schools). How are we going to solve this problem? Tourism is one of them. »

For a company like McLemon’s, which sells retro and alternative style clothing from brands such as Voodoo Vixen and Unique Vintage, the Johnstown Harvest Festival provides an opportunity for new customers to discover opportunities to buy items they wouldn’t. normally only online, with the advantage of a fitting room.

“You can come to little Johnstown and buy this stuff in person, because people need to be able to try stuff out,” McClements said.

This year’s edition of Harvest Festival was supported by the newly revitalized City of Johnstown Tourism and Special Events Committee, which helped provide more volunteers for the activities, as well as city fire engines , which were on display on the street downtown, and tourism committee member Gary Locatelli, who reprized his longtime role as DJ “Uncle Vito” from his 30-year career as a radio host. for PYX 106 from Albany.

Locatelli played music for Downtown using the portable speaker system he used during the days he held live events, which he said he rarely did anymore, but that was happy to help promote the Johnstown event after Mayor Amy Praught encouraged him. join the city’s tourism committee.

“This tourism committee is trying to help with the event, and we’ll probably do some things on our own,” Locatelli said. “I’m basically like a promotion manager. I’m in charge of promoting it, and I’ve had it on the news, and things like that. I love giving back to the community and I felt I had something to offer for that.

Linda Joseph, owner of Vintage Cafe for 14 years, said this year’s harvest festival gave her the opportunity to display some of the items she offers at the cafe with a table outside her business, including chili, corn chowder, pumpkin pie, apple pie, giant molasses and clove chocolate cookies with sugar frosting and thumbprint cookies.

“It’s the first time I’ve done this,” Joseph said of his display table for the harvest festival. “Now I sell bakery products, in addition to our usual products. It started during the pandemic because what would happen is we were doing takeout, and people were picking up their food, and I was setting up a table with treats on it, and people were buying it.

Johnstown native Erin Kelly was one of many parents who took advantage of the festival, bringing her 9-year-old son, Charlie Sinner, along for the parade and candy-picking opportunities. Charlie dressed as a grim reaper character, with a scythe and a mask that included glowing eyes.

“I hit a few places and got sweets and raisins at Vishnu Music,” he said.

Kelly said her son attends weekly guitar lessons at downtown store Vishnu Music & Varieties, which is how she heard about the harvest festival.

“I’m from Johnstown, and it’s nice that they’re doing this for the kids,” she said.

The costume parade began at noon on Saturday at City Hall and traveled from 33-45 East Main Street to Sir William Johnson Park on West Main Street, where free refreshments were provided by the Johnstown Lions Club.

Lions Club President Linda Kollar said her organization gave out 250 hot dogs and at least four gallons of apple cider, along with candy and popcorn.

“We ran out of hot dogs,” Kollar said. “It was a great event and a great day. There were many children, many families.

Kollar said the festival is one of the “performance” events for the Lions, who recently donated $2,500 to backpack programs in the Gloversville and Johnstown school districts. She said they would also donate money for the annual Festival of Hope Thanksgiving meal.

The banner in Sir William Johnson Park was decorated with hay bales, corn stalks and pumpkins by Rizzo Farm, a 125-acre farm near Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

Kelly Rizzo said this year was the first time her company had participated in the festival. She said the event provided an opportunity to show the public the plant products that Rizzo Farm sells at its produce stand.

“We’ve been growing hay for a long time, vegetables and pumpkins and it’s all only been three years, something our family wanted to do,” she said. “We have carving pumpkins, decorative pumpkins, gourds, white pumpkins, called blancos. People also like yolks, called soft yolks. We sell everything.

Kelly Rizzo was assisted by her children Alee Rizzo, 10, and Gianna Rizzo, 16. Alee ran the pumpkin stand while wearing a “skeleton doll” costume.

Kelly’s brother-in-law, Tim Rizzo, who is also a Johnstown city board member, helped his family with his farm stand in the park and handed out flyers for his “Upstate Ice Plex Inc. ” concept.

Tim recently made a public presentation at the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth on the proposed approximately $35 million winter sports complex concept, which, if funding can be secured to build it, would include three ice rinks for the ice hockey, skating and curling, as well as a daycare, fitness center and emergency services building.

Tim said events like the festival provide opportunities to spread awareness of his non-profit concept, which can lead to more people joining his efforts – like Bill Baaki, a former semi-professional ice hockey player based in Amsterdam, and Jennifer Tatlock, who coaches the figure skating team. and blind figure skating in Albany, both of whom recently expressed interest in joining the Upstate Ice Plex Board of Directors.

“So there are people here locally who are talented winter sports coaches who are very interested in the concept,” Tim said.

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