Vendors, attendees brave weather on last day of Westmoreland arts festival
Several cars lined the parking lots at Twin Lakes Park in Hempfield on Sunday morning, waiting to peruse the last day of the annual Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival despite continued threats of rain that shut down the festival early on Saturday.
Inside, vendors checked their products for water or wind damage after 60 mph gusts rolled through the area Saturday along with heavy rain and frequent lightning.
“I was expecting everything to be wet, but we were lucky, very lucky,” said Bonni Oliver, owner of the shop Wood N’at. “The tent’s still standing; that’s always a good thing. We got a little bit of water, but nothing was ruined.”
Oliver, 55, of Gibsonia said she usually packs up her pieces in cardboard boxes and places them on a cart under the table each night to protect them from the rain.
Jessica Catron, owner of Keepin’ It Crafty, said festival organizers were sure to let vendors know about the approaching weather Saturday.
“It started to get kind of windy and dark and everything, and the rain was coming. So they told us we had to close up shop and leave,” said the 34-year-old Mifflin, Juniata County, resident. “It was quick, very quick. But otherwise, it was pretty organized. They were around with our updates, and they did really well.”
According to Michael Ginsburg, Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival board chairman, festival members use a tiered system to determine if and when the festival would need to be evacuated. Tier one warns vendors that bad weather is pending; tier two tells them to prepare their areas for possible wind and rain; and tier three is evacuation.
“The decision-making on that is very difficult because what we’re doing is denying the paid vendors their income, so that’s the last thing we want to do,” Ginsburg said. “But when the public’s safety is an issue, that has to be number one.
“We had so many good people in this community — the fire department, our 911 people, parks and recreation. They’re all very well-versed at this, and everything came together almost near perfect. We couldn’t have asked for better people for a better result.”
About 20,000 visitors got out in about 20 minutes after the system was implemented by walking to their vehicles or taking shuttle buses.
Across the area Saturday, the storms led to flooding and power outages. Rainfall amounts Saturday of up to 1 inch in 20 minutes were reported.
Oliver said she was disappointed over losing almost four hours of possible sales, but she understood the decision to keep customers and vendors safe. Flash flood warnings were issued Sunday morning as the rain moved out of the area.
Despite the threat of rain, with possible showers and thunderstorms throughout the day, according to the National Weather Service, Oliver said she wasn’t concerned about the crowd Sunday, saying several locals use the last day to come and buy items they’ve had time to think about.
Rachelle Rush, 30, of Irwin and her 2-year-old son Parker, walked along the lake, watching fish Sunday morning. Rachelle Rush has come to the festival for the past 10 years and decided the weather was good enough to come for the final day.
More than 200 vendors fill the festival each year, which is in it 45th season, with almost half of them coming from out of state, organizers said last week. This year’s festival started Thursday, running 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
“People were really impressed with our efficiency and the ease in which we did it,” Ginsburg said. “They didn’t see us sweating, but we were sweating.
“That’s the idea. You know if they don’t see you sweating and you get through it, and you still have good comments, then it was worthwhile.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .