First Posted: 8/23/2014
PITTSTON — The city’s Main Street has morphed in recent years, and the 31st annual Pittston Tomato Festival showcased the face-lift it’s helped finance.
“I like to think it’s four days we get to show off,” said festival committee Vice Chair Mike Lombardo.
Along with charitable donations made throughout the year, he said Saturday that the committee helps fund art projects in the city with revenue from the annual festival, like the wire sculpture — currently holding a tomato festival banner — or the splattered tomato mural.
Lombardo said the constant additions are part of a long-term goal to have the most art displays per square mile of any city in the world. The goal is inspired at least partly by Philadelphia and its innumerable art installations.
“They’re our heroes,” he said, “and we want to compete with them.”
A shirt on sale at the festival pays homage to Philadelphia’s influence, incorporating a tomato into a play on the iconic LOVE Park sculpture.
Main Street’s latest piece of public art, a giant tomato painted on the road, owes its existence directly to the tomato festival. When workers from M Mayo Striping — painting a red stripe in preparation for the festival — accidentally spilled red paint in the street, Lombardo said Pittston decided to just roll with it.
“It looked like an amoeba on the street. It was kind of funny,” he said. “Accidents happen.”
But the painters from Mayo saw an opportunity, he said, and the tomato painting was born.
In its 31 years, the festival has grown into a four-day event complete with many of the region’s staple vendors, a 5k race and plenty of unique tomato-themed apparel and merchandise. It even has its own street.
And next year, Lombardo said, promises to be even bigger, adding a third tier behind the Pittston Library and a permanent building to serve as the committee’s information and merchandise stand, and to house supplies closer to the site of the festival.
Sam Giamber, 77, said he has attended the festival since its humble beginnings.
“Pittston is my roots,” the lifelong city resident said.
Giamber said he’s seen the tomato festival change location and grow tremendously.
“It’s got a lot, lot, lot more people than it had in the beginning,” he said.
Lately, you can find Giamber serving up sausage and pepper sandwiches at the IIII Guys stand, something he said he’ll keep doing as long as he can.
He said the festival is a great way to get out and catch up with old friends.
“You see people you haven’t seen in years,” he said.
The Pittston Tomato Festival concludes today.