WILKES-BARRE — The cement traffic barriers are in place, the tents have been pitched and soon the air will be filled with the aroma of potato pancakes and fried chicken as the 61st annual Fine Arts Fiesta begins.
And, of course, Public Square will be the center of all that is art and culture in Northeastern Pennsylvania for four days, from Thursday to Sunday.
This year’s theme is “Spring into Fiesta,” and many people look at the fiesta as a sign that summer is near.
“The fiesta is another rite of spring,” said John Maday, president of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association. “People love the tradition and the excitement that the fiesta brings to the downtown. And it always has a positive economic impact on the downtown businesses.”
Maday said the fiesta shows the world that arts and culture are “living and breathing” in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Brian Benedetti, executive director of the Fine Arts Fiesta, was busy watching all of the tents and display areas being put up in preparation for Thursday’s start. He said most of the artwork will be hung Thursday night.
“This year we went back to our roots with an emphasis on children’s features,” Benedetti said. “And we will have a strolling bard reciting Shakespeare, an opera performance and a pop-up accordion player. It will be fun for sure.”
Benedetti said the fiesta is an event that brings the community together — adults and children alike.
Weather is an annual concern for the fiesta, with rain a common occurrence. But weather reports show the weekend to be mild, with a chance of showers on Saturday.
“I don’t even look at the weather reports,” Benedetti said. “I’ll be here no matter what the weather is like.”
Former Wilkes-Barre Councilman Tony Thomas was helping to set up his food stand across from Rodano’s. Thomas said he will be selling fresh cut fries and southern fried chicken, in addition to homemade root beer, root beer floats and orange cream floats. Thomas said his recipe for chicken is the best.
“If the Colonel (Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame) had my recipe, he would be a general,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he started selling food at the fiesta in the 1980s. He said the event is great for the city.
“The fiesta brings thousands and thousands of people to downtown Wilkes-Barre,” he said. “It’s the job of all the downtown store owners to get those people to come into their stores.”
One of those store owners, Phil Rudy, of Circles on the Square, said he has been in business for 31 years. He said although the altered traffic pattern around Public Square is not good for his delicatessen business, he said the fiesta is great for the downtown.
“The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages,” Rudy said. “It’s always a great celebration.”
Across Public Square, Mark Bronsburg, of Mimmo’s Pizza, said the fiesta doesn’t really add to his customer flow, but he said the event has its advantages.
“The fiesta does bring a lot of people to downtown Wilkes-Barre,” Bronsburg said. “And that’s a good thing. Plus they can try the best pizza in the city.”
From Thursday through Sunday, the fiesta’s artists, performances and exhibits will fill Public Square and the surrounding streets. Featured performers will include Zayre Mountain, Saskia and the Truly Unruly Band, the Tri-Cities Opera, the Poets and George Wesley’s I-tations.