Uplifting Oktoberfest

10,000 in Boardman boost economy while stocking up on treats for fall




To hear James Gosnell tell it, his trip to the Boardman Rotary’s annual Oktoberfest on Sunday was purely civic minded.

“I just came out to spend [money] and pick up the economy,” the 65-year-old Howland man said with a laugh. “We all have to do our part.”

Gosnell and his wife, Charlene, 61, had come to spend money alright, and spend they did.

“I found everything I was looking for, and then some,” he said, laughing again.

And the Gosnells weren’t alone, as the 34th annual Oktoberfest in Boardman Township Park was packed with people who’d come in search of deals and decorations for the upcoming holidays. Several of the 300 vendor tents and tables were laden with handmade craft items for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

There also were tables and tents of jewelry, handbags, dried flowers, wooden items, pet snacks and knickknacks. There also were performances by the Boardman High School band and other live entertainment during the day.

“I like to look for Thanksgiving things because they have stuff here that’s hard to find other places,” said 47-year-old Renee Gill of Warren, who attended with her mother, Stella Gill, 65. The women said they come to the event each year.

“Unusual things” are what Stella Gill said she and her daughter search for – particularly “primitive” craft items that are Victorian in nature.

The Gills said Sunday’s cold, damp and generally dreary weather didn’t dissuade them at all from their annual venture to Oktoberfest.

“We walked in the rain. We didn’t care,” Renee said.

Bill Sweeney and Ted Thornton, co-chairmen of the event, said they were mildly discouraged at the way the weather turned out, but said attendance seemed to be down only slightly, if at all. They were expecting some 10,000 people for what they said is the Boardman Rotary’s largest annual fund-raising event.

“We’re pleasantly surprised” at the turnout, Thornton said. He and Sweeney said the club hopes to raise between $30,000 and $40,000 through proceeds from the event. The bulk of the money raised is spent toward local charitable efforts, although some also is used for projects to aid the needy in other countries, such as El Salvador.

They said the recent addition of new sidewalks and pedestrian walkways through the park allowed for expansion of the vendor sites this year. Instead of having to cram all the vendors along the roads, they could be set up in other areas that were opened up by the new walkways.

“Those [paved] pathways are nice,” said Nancy Holman of Pittsburgh, who was hawking clothing and other items primarily decorated with Pittsburgh sports-team logos.

Holman said the weather was disappointing, but that sales were still going well.

“You take the good with the bad,” she said.

Beverly Solomon of Toronto, Ohio, said sales at her outdoor woodcrafts tent were “wonderful,” despite the weather.

“It’s just cold, but you can’t worry about the weather. Whatever happens, happens,” she said.

Solomon said she expected sales to be strong Sunday despite the flagging economy, and was not let down.

“People come here to buy, so if they see something and they want it, they buy it,” she said.

Gosnell said people still seem to have money to spend, even away from events like Oktoberfest.

“I’ll tell you what, they talk about the economy being bad, but you just try and go to a restaurant around here,” he said, noting that they are almost always busy.

With temperatures so chilly you could see your breath, Sunday might not have seemed like a good day to be selling sno-cones, but Kim Easton was doing OK.

“I’ve actually sold quite a few, which shocked me,” said Easton, of Wampum, Pa. “The kids don’t care how cold it is.”

But Easton also was selling hot apple cider and hot chocolate, for those who weren’t up to an icy treat.

“I’ve got hot and cold things, so I’m covered,” she said.

Darla Righetti of Fredericktown, Pa., some 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, also was among those who’d bundled up to shop.

“We come every year,” the 58-year-old woman said as she strolled along with a handcart loaded with her day’s purchases. “We drove 90 minutes to get here because we like the crafts.”

Righetti said it was her fifth year, and that she was with friends who’d been coming even longer.

Sweeney and Thornton said the Boardman Rotary’s other main fundraiser is a pancake breakfast, which will be over two weekends in March.

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