BY STEVE MOCARSKY
The City of Wilkes-Barre has canceled the annual Fourth of July Celebration and fireworks display at Kirby Park and also plans a scaled-back Farmers Market on Public Square because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor George Brown announced the changes Wednesday in a press release.
Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Health issued guidance that restricts large gatherings in the yellow phase of reopening and recommends they not exceed 250 people in counties in the green phase. Luzerne County moves from red to yellow on Friday.
The Fourth of July Celebration, which offers amusement rides, food and craft vendors, and entertainment, and culminates with a massive fireworks display at the end of the night, normally draws thousands of visitors to Kirby Park every year.
The city’s Strawberry Festival, scheduled for June 18, also has been canceled.
George also announced that the City’s Farmers Market on Public Square will open on June 25 at 10 a.m. and continue through 4 p.m. each Thursday. But the weekly event will be subject to COVID-19 regulations and recommendations set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health.
There will be no prepared food vendors, nor will there be any non-food item vendors during the market, through at least July. It will be a produce market only.
The city encourages downtown Wilkes-Barre restaurants to make themselves available to the patrons of the Farmers’ Market.
“The city is hopeful that the Farmers’ Market will enable downtown restaurants to reestablish their businesses and connection with community,” the news release said.
The NEPR AACA Car Cruise on Public Square will begin on July 31, but also will have limitations pursuant to CDC and state DOH guidelines. There will be no food vendors or other vendors during the event.
Michael Bonczar, owner of Beta Bread Bakery in Clarks Summit, posted his dismay about the farmers market restrictions on the business’ Facebook page hours before the city released the announcement.
Bonczar said he had contacted city special events coordinator Patty Hughes about the event and learned in a reply email that “the Wilkes-Barre farmers market is not welcoming back non-farmer vendors” to allow for social distancing.
“This is unfortunate, as we have many customers that only ever interact with us at this market,” Bonczar said.
Bonczar said his carryout and delivery business from other areas in Luzerne County quadrupled since the economic shutdown began, so he’s not hurting financially. And he expects business to be good at other farmers markets at which he will be a vendor this summer.
“It’s not the end of the world, so to speak. But after eight years of doing business on the square … to hear basically you’re not welcome is disappointing,” he said.
Brown said he’ll review the situation after a few weeks and might try to expand the market offerings.
“It’s nice to have as many people there as we can,” Brown said, “but I have to make sure people are safe.”
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