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Buffalo’s Italian Festival begins unusual August run

The metal barriers that are keeping traffic off Hertel Avenue between Colvin and Delaware may have North Buffalo residents checking their calendars. The annual Italian Festival is taking over the neighborhood again, and, while the tents and vendor carts are familiar, the timing is a few weeks off.

With July 4 on a Thursday this year, creating a four-day holiday weekend, the annual Taste of Buffalo food festival usually held in early July moved to midmonth, right when the Italian Festival regularly sets up.

Not wanting to compete, and with the nearby Canal Fest in the Tonawandas the following week, the food-heavy Italian celebration moved to the first weekend of August. Organizers said that also was the preference of its sponsor, Galbani cheese, the new brand name for cheeses made by longtime sponsor Sorrento.

Vendors setting up Wednesday afternoon had mixed feelings about the time change, which now has the festival coinciding with the Eden Corn Festival, some local fairs and another Italian festival in Niagara Falls that starts Friday.

Nevertheless, the sausage will be grilling, the artichokes will be stuffed, breaded and fried, and there will probably be tripe for those who like it starting today and continuing through Sunday under the fluttering pennants over Buffalo’s Little Italy.

“There will definitely be some red, white and green,” said Colleen Tomlinson, who with Madelyn Rose Feldman was setting up their Appetite jewelry craft booth on the west end of the festival, between Homer and Tennyson avenues.

Crafters are a new addition to the event this year, and Tomlinson said they plan to cater to the theme, offering some jewelry pieces incorporating Italian coins and colors.

Feldman said the festival is something of an experiment for them, since its reputation is more as a place to eat than to shop.

“But we could get some publicity, and we like to support the local festivals,” she said.

Wednesday it was the calm before the crowds, as the kiddie rides were being assembled at Hertel and Commonwealth, and neighborhood children enjoyed riding their bicycles on the street now closed to cars. A dozen 10-pound bags of Domino sugar were being unloaded at the Fowler’s Taffy booth, electricians were hooking up power cables, and dozens of vendors were assembling tents, counters and kitchens.

Amy DiSarno was among those getting her bearings. This will be her first time at the festival as a vendor. She said she has been in business only a month as the Gelato Gypsy and is hoping festivalgoers have an appetite for the three gelato flavors she will offer: gran stracciatella (creamy gelato with chocolate shavings), gianduia (dark chocolate with hazelnut) and panna cotta (a vanilla custard).

Meanwhile, Hertel Avenue businesses were battening down for the upcoming flood of pedestrians, most of whom will be flowing right past them.

“There’s no access to us,” said Bob Nespal, who works at Daddio’s Pizza. “We put out our patio tables and people sit there, but they’re eating food they bought other places. But, it’s only four days, and they do a good job cleaning up.”

The four days start today, with grape stomping every afternoon, daily bocce games and a chance to take a photo in a genuine Venetian gondola.

For the children, there will be daily Sicilian marionette shows and the Centro Bambini, a craft tent that has been expanded this year with more activities.

Mike Costley, who performed a hot show for Jazz at the Albright-Knox on July 14, is the opening night headliner, taking his place on the Frankie Scinta Stage at 8 p.m. tonight.

Also on the schedule: daily cooking talks and tastings with local chefs, book signings by Buffalo authors and, you may have heard, lots and lots of food.

Side streets bordering the festival are open to residential traffic only. Paid parking is available in the Kmart lot on Hertel west of Delaware Avenue; at the Burger King on the corner of Hertel and Delaware; and in the lot at St. Margaret’s Church at North Park, as well as along Hertel Avenue east of Colvin.

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