by William V Foley
ELLWOOD CITY – Caroline Golmic stands on a second-story balcony overlooking Lawrence Avenue, where the autumn sun has broken through low, gray clouds and is illuminating the smiles on up to 4,400 faces on Ellwood City’s main thoroughfare.
Below her, at street level, the murmur of the crowd massing along seven blocks mixes with the roar of car-cruise vehicles young and old racing their engines, which blends with live music from the Community Plaza, the clip-clop of horses pulling passenger-filled carriages, a live-radio broadcast barker and the laughter of children.
These are the sounds of the second annual Ellwood City Fall Fest.
These are the sounds of success.
That sun focusing its spotlight on Lawrence Avenue?
Even Mother Nature wants to play a part in Ellwood City’s present and future.
“This gives people hope for what Ellwood City can turn back into,” says Golmic, a member of the Ellwood City Area Chamber of Commerce committee that organized Fall Fest. “We’re never going to be a steel town again. There’s never going to be a lot of mills here again. But we can rebrand ourselves and become something different. This gives a lot of people hope and excitement that there are young people living here, that there are people who have businesses downtown and want to give back locally. It’s exciting.”
Just ask Chris Ringer, of Wampum, who stops by the Community Plaza with her granddaughters, Maddie and Olivia.
“This is perfect,” Ringer says. “I can entertain the girls for the day.”
Nearby, water fountains reach longingly toward the clearing sky, and visitors find a shady seat and table near the sun-splashed stage.
“And they have cotton candy, which Olivia loves,” Ringer says. “The horse rides, the carriage rides. They want to do that. Ellwood is growing. Looks nice. I love this renovation here (at the Community Plaza).”
Fall Fest is a “really good family event,” says Jen Eller, of Ellwood City, who has her two daughters at her side.
“A little bit of everything for everybody,” Eller says.
Attendance doubled from the previous Fall Fest – and from the previous car cruise, which in 2016 attracted 450 vehicles, necessitating the impromptu opening of an additional block of Lawrence Avenue and adjacent parking lots.
“I think this is a record number of cars for this event so far,” says Bruce McClean, of Fombell, as he shows his 1973 red Chevy Vega with its hood removed to display a .355 cubic-inch engine. “They love what they see, hot rods and vintage cars. There is something here for everybody to like.”
Down the street, Bob Johnson, of Evans City, is in awe over a 1929 Duesenberg Model J owned by Bob and Norma Jean Nye, of New Castle, and exhibited by Sam Pawlowski, of Frisco.
“Man, this thing is a survivor!” Johnson exclaims. “This thing is beautiful. I am very impressed with this car, because you don’t see them.”
It’s not often Joanne Stevens, of Ellwood City, has seen crowds of this magnitude in the borough.
“It’s nice to see this type of thing going on in Ellwood City,” she says as she walks with Cindy Laszlo, also of Ellwood City, while other pedestrians, with kettle-popped popcorn, barbecue or Amish baked goods in hand, crisscross Lawrence Avenue toward any of 40 vendors. “I was out of state for this last year, but I heard there were 2,000 people here.
“Like all towns in America, people are not doing things as a community,” Stevens says. “It is nice to see everybody coming out and doing things in our community, not taking it to Pittsburgh or Cranberry. Just being here with our hometown people.”
Highlights of the festival included a tots train, provided by The Kitchen Cabinet, of Ellwood City; the horse-drawn carriage rides, from Friendship Hill Equine Services; a live broadcast by WXED, 107.3 FM, Ellwood City; a bouncy house, from T&M Hardware and Rental, Ellwood City; and two-hour performances by Wine & Spirit and Generation II at the Community Plaza.
Brockway Oliastro, 7; Evan Tweddell, 9; and Autocar Oliastro, 10, meander with chamber Executive Director Ray Santillo up and down Lawrence Avenue as Kid’s Choice judges for the car cruise.
To be eligible to judge, children had to be under 12 years of age and had to bring their first business cards to the chamber office.
Brockway, Evan and Autocar choose as winners Vic Ialongo’s torch-red 2002 Corvette; Larry Santillo’s 1929 black-and-gold hot rod truck; and David McDade’s red 2014 Ford F-250 FX4 truck.
“They might have to rearrange things next year for a bigger car crowd,” says McClean, the Fombell car-show exhibitor.
Joining Golmic on the Fall Festival committee were David DeCaria, Tracey Hughes, Sam Ferrante, Dave Hunter and Santillo, who says he’s overwhelmed with the generosity of the Ellwood City area.
“Not only with money, but with time and volunteer work,” Santillo says. “I would put the generosity of volunteers up against any other area in Beaver, Butler or Lawrence counties. It brings me to my knees.”
Golmic, 29, and her husband, Scott, moved from the Pittsburgh suburbs to Ellwood City, where Caroline attended Lincoln High School and graduated in 2005.
“I grew up here,” she says. “There were parades and the small-town feel that my husband did not experience growing up. He started saying he wished we were living in Ellwood City.”
In 2014, that dream became a reality. Then the Golmics joined the Ellwood City Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We wanted to get connected,” Golmic says. “We felt we were called here, called back to Ellwood City. We felt this was where we were meant to be, so let’s just dive in. It’s such a small town. If you have ideas and are willing to give your time, you can make anything happen.”
Johnson, of Evans City, would agree.
“This is very impressive to me,” he says. “I know there is a lot of hard work in this, which I appreciate.”
Hard work, from her committee and from chamber Executive Assistant Nikki Mars, that paid off, Golmic says.
“It’s emotional, almost, to see so many people out,” Golmic says. “I’ve heard it so many times today, that this is awesome. To see seven blocks of the downtown filled. People want to have a place to come to have fun and be together with their families and build memories. And that is what this is going to be for people down the road.”
The Ellwood City Area Chamber of Commerce thanks its Fall Fest/Car Cruise sponsors: Ellwood City Forge/Ellwood Group, Eric Ryan Corporation, MIBS Inc., Nalco, Pitt Race, Signs by Sam, The Color Center, T&M Hardware and Rental, Wampum Underground and Wesbanco.
It also thanks its goodie bag sponsors: Aflac, Air Physical Therapy and Fitness, Autumn Splendor Tour, Blocher Jewelers, The Car Wash of Ellwood City, Giant Eagle, Loccisano’s, Half-Pint Kids Inc., Hutch & Home, Office of Jaret Gibbons, McElwains, Katy’s Baked Goods, Leaps & Bounds Gymnastics Company and Mary Kay.