Youngstowners of all stripes are attracted to the urban heart of the region



Although it rev- els in the culture and traditions of Italy, the Greater Youngstown Italian Festival is really all about Youngstown.

The massive street fair moved downtown five years ago and instantly became the city’s biggest festival. It returns this coming weekend with dozens of specialty food vendors, live music, and amusement rides and games, sprawled over several blocks.

The reason for its success — it drew 60,000 people over three days last year — has a lot to do with its location. Downtown is the urban heart of the region, and Youngstowners of all stripes are attracted to it.

Central Square has long been party central for the younger crowd. But it also brings back fond memories for older Valley residents, according to John Rossetti, GYIF chairman.

“A lot of senior citizens haven’t been Downtown for years, if not decades,” he said. “They see the renaissance of Downtown, but they also look at the old buildings and it brings back a lot of memories.”

Because tradition is the theme, the festival board doesn’t like to change much from year to year. No point in messing with success.

“When you walk through the festival, and see all the people bouncing through it, you can tell there is something in the air,” said Rossetti. “It’s a good festival.”

Festival-goers will again find two mega-tents, each holding upwards of 1,000 people, and each with a stage hosting nearly nonstop entertainment. There are also smaller tents, including a cafe with Italian pastries and coffees.

Food ranges from gourmet Italian to festival fare for kids.

Featured artists this year are singer Franco Corso and comedian Pat Capuzzi.

An interesting event will be the homemade wine and beer contest all day July 31 in the lobby of 20 Federal Place (the former Phar-Mor Building). Dozens of wines have been entered, and more than 300 beers.

“It’s free and most people don’t know about it,” said Rossetti.

Italian and domestic wine and beer can be purchased in the east mega-tent beer garden, he noted.

Other annual events include the Miss Italian Festival pageant Friday and the Little King and Queen crowning Sunday; a morra competition Friday; a polka mass at 4 p.m. Saturday; and the main Mass at noon Sunday, followed by a procession.

A raffle will be held with a grand prize of a trip for two to Las Vegas.

The festival takes on a party atmosphere each evening with live dance and rock music in the beer garden with some of the area’s most popular bands: The Houseband Friday, Bustin’ Loose Saturday and Graphic Pink Sunday.

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