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Mixed feelings as longtime festival leaves Hertel for Outer Harbor

WBFO's Eileen Buckley

On Tuesday, organizers of the Galbani Italian Heritage Festival confirmed they are moving the annual summer event to Buffalo's Outer Harbor this summer. Business owners on Hertel Avenue near Colvin Avenue reflected on no longer being the neighborhood where the festival was home for nearly three decades.

Explaining the decision to move during a news conference inside Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown's office, Chef Marco Sciortino of Galbani Cheese, the event's longtime sponsor, explained that festival committee members agreed the celebration had become too big for the neighborhood. Among their concerns was blocking off access to businesses for several days.

"It becomes a hindrance. They're closed, employees can't get to it," Sciortino said. "Anybody that's spending any money is spending it at the festival, not at their businesses. We're compassionate to the businesses. We don't want them to suffer."

Bob Colasanti was standing behind the counter Tuesday afternoon inside Virgil Avenue Tobacconist, located at an intersection with Hertel that was part of the festival strip. As a half dozen guests sat and enjoyed cigars nearby, Colasanti reacted to the news that the festival would no longer be taking place just a few steps away from the shop entrance.

"I'm surprised to hear that they have outgrown the neighborhood but there's definitely problems with the parking and residents and some of the shop owners," he said.

Those problems included the sentiment shared by Chef Marco about access to businesses during the festival. With several blocks of Hertel Avenue closed to traffic for the festival, and convenient parking very difficult to find given the spaces already taken up by guests, many shops were denied business by their regular customers. 

Credit WBFO's Eileen Buckley

Mike Aloisio of Johnny's Meats says his business would sell to festival goers at their setup outside. It made up for some of the business they lost because people were unable to come inside. But it also required a lot more effort just to offset that lost business.

"The hours were crazy," he said. "Eight in the morning until 11 at night. It was a lot of work. Me personally, I don't mind it leaving."

Other businesses were in an ideal location for the festival. Thomas Lombardo owns Ristorante Lombardo, which is located in the heart of the former festival space. He said the festival was always good for his business, though he also understood how some neighbors might have become annoyed with the additional traffic, side streets congested with parked cars and mass of people. 

The businesses, he believes, will do just fine without the festival.

"I think now Hertel Avenue is growing at a really fast rate," Lombardo said. "I think a lot of the businesses are not complaining that it's going to go away."

Another major change that is planned this year involves a $5 fee for festival participants who are over the age of 12. The festival was free in past years.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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