Thousands of people packed historic 119th street in the City of Whiting on Friday for Pierogi Fest; a celebration of some delicious dumplings and the heritage they represent.
But while the Eastern European delicacy was the namesake of the festival, it shared the spotlight this evening with Whiting and its residents.
“What Pierogi Fest does is brings people from all over and really showcases Whiting,” Whiting's Director of Events, Mark Harbin, told IIMM. “We have made a lot of investments into the city, and what’s happening is the investments we have made are starting to pay off.”
And the beauty of the little city by the lake certainly showed tonight, as attendees made their way down the street past beautiful storefronts, listening to music on the multiple event stages, picking up tchotchkes at local craft tables, and of course, sampling more delicious food than one could ever dream of.
“There’s over 75 food vendors and 40 tchotchke vendors this year,” said Karen Anaszewicz, Executive Director of the Whiting Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce. “We always have something going on during the festival, and there’s a lot of great events happening.”
“In fact, tomorrow we have someone coming from Japan to learn the polka,” Anaszewicz added.
And it’s that kind of lighthearted charm and fun, like learning to polka, Anaszewicz adds, that attracts people from all over the world to Pierogi Fest, where festivalgoers get a chance to dance with the good people that make up the city.
Good people like James Eder, who was gracious enough to let us up on the rooftop of the Beggars Pizza he owns right in the heart of the city and to help us get a view of the action from above.
Eder has grown to love Whiting and its charm, and the city loves Eder right back.
“We met with Mayor Joe (Stahura) and the Chamber, and he just blew us away with his vision of the city,” said Eder. “I knew we wanted to be a part of that.”
But the city also credits Eder for his commitment to becoming such a key part to the landscape of the city, and now the festival, as well.
“This building was an old theatre,” said Harbin of Beggars’ location. “And it also occupies a very large and key section of our downtown. We knew who ever came into that space had to have a vision for it. When you walk in to his restaurant you can see the investment he has made to this building.”
“I saw the beauty in it,” said Eder.
And that, perhaps, is the underlying theme of the festival itself: see the beauty; in Whiting, in the charm of celebrating the days of yore and having a laugh at it while you go, and in spending precious time with family and friends at a fun, family-friendly event like this.
Gabby Gomez, an attendee of the event certainly did.
“My family has gone every year for the past few years,” said Gomez. “It was hot out there but so much fun, we will definitely be going back next year.”
And CBS 2 Chicago Meteorologist and Grand Marshal of The Pierogi Fest Parade, Steve Baskerville, enjoyed himself as well. Adding what he loves about the festival is the simple fact that it is just pure fun.
“I love coming out to Whiting,” Said Baskerville. “The hospitality is amazing, the festival is always fun, and it’s just got the right kind of spirit to it.”
If you would like to get in on the fun as well, Pierogi Fest is still going today and Sunday with a ton of great events and musical performances lined up, and of course, the delicious food.
For more information, check out our all-you-need-to-know Pierogi Fest preview guide here.
Photo credits: Jimmy Lafakis and Steve Neville.