Last updated: February 16. 2013 7:35PM - 247 Views

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This weekend, Arcaro & Genell Restaurant will be bringing its Old Forge taste to downtown Scranton.

The restaurant will be one of close to 100 vendors taking part in La Festa Italiana scheduled for Saturday through Monday, Sept. 1 through 3 on Courthouse Square.

"We use it more as a meet and greet," said Angelo Genell, who owns Arcaro & Genell with his brother, Mark.

"We get to see our customers who we haven't seen in a while. Sometimes we only get to see them at the festival. It's just a fun thing to be involved in."

If numbers are any indication, Genell's sentiments are shared by many in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with 80 vendors signed up to take part in La Festa again this year, and over 60 selling food.

"I like it. I like working outside," said Austin Genell, who's been helping his father at La Festa for years.

"It's different working outside than when you're in a kitchen all day, it's a nice atmosphere."

One of the main differences is being outside gives the staff at all the tents a chance to be face to face with their customers, and with Chris DiMattio, president and chairman of La Festa Italiana, estimating there are 5,000 to 7,000 people walking around the square every two hours, that's a lot of face time.

Founded in 1976, the year of the bicentennial, according to DiMattio, La Festa was started at the encouragement of the then county commissioners.

"At the time (they) were encouraging ethnic organizations to have pride in being American and of their heritage, so a lot of them had festivals. So La Festa was born on Columbus Day in 1976 and it was pretty cold," laughed DiMattio.

Several festivals were held that year, and La Festa has managed to hang around, the reason for which DiMattio thinks is fairly simple.

"Terrific food, homemade Italian food, entertainment and culture, I think that's what made this festival great," said DiMattio.

After snow hit the event in 1980, La Festa was moved to Labor Day weekend in 1981.

In addition to the date, the amount of entertainment has also changed, growing through the years, going from eight bands on one stage, to over 40 acts performing on three stages.

"You don't have to have a dollar in your pocket to have fun at La Festa, but then when you're stomach starts growling you have 80 vendors to choose from," said DiMattio.

DiMattio was asked to help with La Festa in 1987 by founder Sam Cali. During that time he has had the opportunity to see the event grow in size and reputation, with word of the yearly event traveling all over the East Coast.

While a bulk of the vendors are either nonprofits or family businesses from Northeastern Pennsylvania, there are a few who travel from New York, and some from as far as Florida, to sell their baked goods or arts and crafts during the weekend.

The notoriety helps increase the appeal of the event, which in turn helps promote Italian American heritage, which is the reason many volunteers got involved with the event in the first place.

"I'm honored just to be involved, and I think most of our board feels that way as well, that we can continue our Italian American heritage and promote our Italian American heritage for generations to come," said DiMattio.

"When Sam asked, I could remember that day like it was yesterday, I was honored and thrilled, because, growing up as a Italian American, La Festa was it, just like the St. Patrick's Day Parade is in Scranton, you're so proud of your Irish heritage, I was so proud."

With the success of La Festa dependent on volunteers to keep it going, there is a constant need for younger people to come in and help to ensure the event continues, and DiMattio is hoping that one of those future volunteers shares his last name.

"I'm so happy that I have three year old son and a seven year old son, and the seven-year-old (Louis) loves La Festa, and he'll come down and help me measure the tents and help me move picnic tables. He's into it now, he really loves it, so hopefully he'll be the next leader 20 years down the road.'

DiMattio went on to say that La Festa would not be possible without the cooperation from the city of Scranton, the Lackawanna County Commissioners and the local IBEW.

For more information, visit www.lafestaitaliana.org/.

If you go

What: La Festa Italiana

When: Saturday through Monday, Sept. 1 through 3, Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Monday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Where: On Courthouse Square in downtown Scranton.

Info: www.lafestaitaliana.org

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