As music filled the downtown air and people waited in line for their favorite festival foods, Pittston City Mayor Mike Lombardo looked out over a crowd he hadn’t seen since 2019.
“We’re back,” he said.
The Pittston Tomato Festival returned last weekend, bringing live music, rows of vendors and excited, hungry patrons back to downtown Pittston. After canceling the festival in 2020, what would have been the mayor’s “rookie season” as chairperson of the Tomato Festival Committee, Lombardo said he had been hopeful about holding the festival this summer.
“For us in the city, we have a lot of other great events, but this is the signature event,” he said. “I missed it last year, so it’s really good to be back.”
The festival opened on Thursday, Aug. 19, and ran until Sunday, Aug. 22. Some features of the festival could not happen this year, such as Saturday’s traditional Tomato Fight, but events like the annual Tomato Festival Parade, the annual 5K race, and the Little Miss and Little Mister Tomato Pageant returned in full swing.
Committee member Sarah Donahue coordinated the parade this year, where “all essential workers” were dubbed the grand marshal.
“I think it was great,” Donahue said. “It was one of the biggest crowds that I’ve seen for the Tomato Festival Parade.”
Prior to the parade, the 5K race was on. Chris McCabe, 31, of Boiling Springs, and Rebecca Sebastian, 31, of Randolph, New Jersey, came away with the winning times in the men’s and women’s categories.
Come Sunday, Ari Dempsey was crowned Little Miss Tomato and Maverick Fabbri was named Little Mister Tomato.
But on Friday night, the festival’s food took center stage for those making their way downtown. Lombardo said he spotted several people who came to the festival lots solely to pick up their favorite foods and head home.
“Which is good, whatever they’re comfortable doing,” he said.
John and Amanda Popko, of Duryea, waited in one of the longest lines of the night for a chicken scampi sandwich from Grico’s.
“We come every year, obviously we missed last year,” John Popko said. “It’s a wild mess right now, but it’s good to see people back out and businesses prospering.”
Prospering vendors were exactly what Lombardo hoped to see over the weekend.
“At the end of the day for us, I want the vendors to do well,” he said. “They got really hurt last year ... I want to see them do well, they deserve it.”
On opening night, Lombardo said several vendors had to send workers back to their main businesses to restock their festival stands.
“So that’s a good sign,” he said. “When Thursday night kicks off hard, it puts you in a good spot.”
Organizers said around 75,000 people came through the festival grounds by the time they closed for the season on Sunday evening.
“I think people are just happy to be out,” Lombardo said.