PITTSTON – Despite being slightly scaled-back, this year’s Pittston Tomato Festival exceeded organizers’ expectations.
“We were very cognizant of the fact that we’re in a COVID area, so we spread everybody out, made the festival a little bit smaller, but it’s actually probably our most successful,” festival cochairman Jimmy Zarra said Saturday.
“We’re at 37 years, but the last two days were the most successful Thursday and Friday we ever had,” Zarra said.
The festival continues Sunday on the festival grounds along Spring Street, off Tomato Festival Drive.
“Vendors are smiling ear to ear. They were running out of product the first night,” festival grounds chairman Bobby Pugliese added.
"You can see, it’s just been a constant sea of people. And as soon as the sun goes down a little bit, it’ll be a little bit crazier,” Zarra said.
With slightly fewer vendors and more people in attendance, food lines were longer than usual, but Zarra said he noticed that people waiting in line were cordial and respectful of each other.
“I noticed that people are really happy just to be out and seeing friends and neighbors,” Pugliese said. “This has always been that kind of community thing, where you see friends that you might not have seen and you get together and catch up.”
Waiting in line for a chicken scampi melt for his son, Joe Sekusky said he already ate a sausage-and-peppers sandwich. "That's my favorite."
Sekusky, 65, of Pittston, returned to the festival for some food after taking his three granddaughters home after the festival parade, which he said "seemed longer than usual, with more participants."
"I had to take them home; they were beat from the heat," he said.
Sekusky said he's been coming to the festival since it started 37 years ago.
"Last year, there wasn't any. This year, it's nice because it picked up again. I don't think the crowd is as big as it used to be on a Saturday afternoon, but it might be because of the heat," Sekusky said.
It wasn't just Pittstonians who filled the festival grounds. Attendees came from cities and towns near and far.
Katie and Chris Jarrow, of Effort, Monroe County, said they decided to attend with their 3-month-old daughter, Penelope, after seeing the festival featured on a TV newscast.
"This is pretty great so far," Katie said while snacking on a potato cake. "I'm a huge tomato fan."
"I don't eat them," Chris admitted. "But this might become a regular event for us. We're going to head back for some broccoli and shells and maybe some double-crust white pizza."
Jeff Carey, 25, and Katrina Kelly, 26, both of Nanticoke, said Saturday was their first-ever visit to the festival.
"We came for the food," Kelly said as they, like Sekusky, waited in line for a chicken scampi melt.
Although they had just arrived at the festival, they already were pretty sure they'd be returning next year.
"Maybe we'll catch the parade next year, and the tomato fight," Carey said.
Zarra said the committee decided not to have the popular tomato fights this year because of COVID-related concerns.
Surprisingly, though, Zarra said people didn’t seem disappointed with the cancellation.
“If they were, they didn’t tell us,” Zarra said.
Zarra said Mayor Michael Lombardo got the message out about having a safe festival.
“I think the rapport that Michael has with this community, whatever we do … I think they just trust us,” Zarra said.
“I’m just so happy with the response of the people," Zarra added. "And the man upstairs held off the rain. And if it rains (Sunday), so be it."