With no Fort Ligonier Days this fall due because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce and local merchants are working with Ligonier Borough officials on creative ways to boost business and host community events amid pandemic precautions.
Even without the food booths, crafters and living history demonstrations that highlight the annual festival, the town’s history will still be celebrated. Fort Ligonier plans to open the historic site and museum during a Battle Commemoration Weekend on Oct. 9-11 recognizing the anniversary of the Oct. 12, 1758 Battle of Fort Ligonier during the French and Indian War.
Visitors must pre-purchase timed tickets to attend. The fort is offering free admission to the community from 4-6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9.
Ligonier Borough Council on Thursday approved two banners advertising the Battle Commemoration Weekend. Council met remotely over the Zoom online video conferencing application, as it has done since its April meeting.
Fort Ligonier Days, Inc., the nonprofit that plans and operates the three-day festival, canceled the 2020 event earlier this summer and announced it planned to go virtual, although no further details have yet been announced.
The chamber also plans to advertise the weekend as Ligonier Chamber Days. Council agreed to extend sidewalk sales that weekend to four days, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 8-11.
By then, the chamber hopes to have picnic tables in place along Bank Alley between North Fairfield Street and Parking Lot A for restaurant patrons to enjoy grab-and-go meals. Council approved closing the alley for this purpose.
A merchant group asked to sponsor free metered parking in the borough during the sidewalk sales on Saturday, Oct. 10, offering to donate $600 to the borough. The group also requested additional sidewalk sales the prior weekend of Oct. 3-4.
“This is kind of something we came up with as a thank you to you for offering us the free parking in the spring. So this is just something we were hopefully thinking of a one-time offer just to kind of thank you guys and not ask you for more free parking when you’ve been so generous already,” said Ruthie Stewart of Abigail’s Coffeehouse.
Council approved the request, along with free parking on Oct. 3 if the group can find a sponsor, and thanked the group for its generosity in turn.
“Thanks for kind of creatively coming up with a good solution to best serve the merchants. I don’t know what others think, but I think this is reasonable and I’m willing get behind approving this,” councilman Nate Sylvester said.
The chamber is also revamping the setup for previously approved seasonal events, including Fall Into Ligonier (Nov. 7) and the Wine and Sweets Walk (Oct. 24), where participants would sample food or wine from local restaurants and wineries hosted by individual shops, similar to the spring Soup’s On! function.
Given the stores’ small spaces and indoor gathering restrictions, the chamber requested the use of sidewalks and the parking areas out front for the vendors. A maximum of 250 tickets will be sold for each event, with paid participants required to wear wristbands. Designated drivers will have special wristbands for the Wine and Sweets Walk. Registration will be held in the Town Hall courtyard.
Council approved both amended plans, reasoning the events were like the Ligonier Country Market Night Market and sidewalk sales. However, it suggested staggering the start times for Fall Into Ligonier from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2-4 p.m., after councilwoman Mariah Fisher voiced concerns about crowd size.
Although council felt comfortable setting Saturday, Oct. 31 for Halloween trick-or-treating from 6-8 p.m. in Ligonier Borough, it denied the chamber’s request for the merchant trick-or-trick hour that usually precedes it, given the number of people expected from outside the borough alone. Chamber interim executive director Joyce McIntire said businesses usually give out about 600-700 pieces of candy.
“I’m very uncomfortable with that many people because they’re on top of each other walking around to get that candy,” councilwoman Judy Hoffer said.
Officials made a similar decision for Santa Claus’ visit during Light-Up Night on Friday, Nov. 27. The chamber will be able to decorate the Diamond as usual, but the traditional community event that typically attracts huge crowds every year would only take place if pandemic restrictions are lifted by then.
The chamber will still be able to host the Christmas Town-Wide Open House on Sunday, Dec. 6.
Council was in favor of exploring a suggestion from another merchant group to install signs at intersections around the Diamond noting which businesses are located along each block.
As opposed to a central directory or a walking map, the signs would give a visual cue to visitors walking around town of what is nearby.
‘I think it’s a wonderful idea. The devil’s in the details on how it gets executed, but given the fact that the only way we can continue retail development is places like Fairfield Street, East Main Street, South Fairfield Street, and if you’re on the Diamond you really don’t know what’s there,” councilman Jeff Craig said.
Council president Sam St. Clair suggested that a merchants’ committee form to develop a sign proposal with design standards and bring it to council.
Ligonier will be one Westmoreland County location featured in a film version of “The Nutcracker” ballet that a collaborative group hopes will bring attention — and revenue — to local businesses affected by COVID-19.
Council approved a request from the Westmoreland Ballet Company to film scenes for “Nutcracker Alive!” on the Diamond on Sunday, Sept. 27, requiring a temporary traffic closure.
The production team will include 10 dancers and three film crew members. Ligonier residents and business owners are asked to join the scenes. The production will follow all health and safety protocols including social distancing.
As there is not enough time to get a PennDOT permit officials agreed with Ligonier Valley Police Chief John Berger’s suggestion to have a dedicated officer on site during the filming, in addition to the two other regularly scheduled officers if not on call, given the short amount of time needed.
Berger volunteered to be the designated officer for a two-hour period with no compensation.
“I would love to have this happen in our community because I think it’s good exposure for us. I just think it’s a neat way that they are trying to make this event work for them, as well as keeping in mind all the restrictions in place,” Fisher said.
Ligonier Borough residents should note that voting for the Nov. 3 general election will be held in the former police station on North Fairfield Street, not in the Town Hall community room, following the procedure for the primary election earlier this year.
Council members voted 4-3 to use the police station, with St. Clair, Craig, Hoffer and Matt Smith in favor and Fisher, Sylvester and Robert Barron opposed, preferring Town Hall.
The Town Hall auditorium, basement community room and second floor meeting rooms will remain closed to the public, per council’s vote. Anyone entering the building must wear a mask.
Council also adopted a new COVID-19 policy for borough employees and Town Hall, following a brief executive session. The policy is available at the Town Hall borough office.
The parks and recreation committee hopes to reschedule a public forum to discuss the potential renovation of the tennis courts at Friendship Park. The COVID-19 crisis waylaid the committee’s plans to host the meeting earlier this year.
In the meantime, Fisher encouraged residents with ideas or feedback to send letters or emails to the committee at Town Hall. A forum date could be announced at the Oct. 5 council meeting.
The Ligonier Valley Joint Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee is trying to get back on track with its initiatives. Fisher also asked anyone interested in helping the committee to contact the borough office.
Bartlett Tree Experts continue to monitor to three sickly trees around the Diamond Park bandstand, although they have not made any recommendation to the borough yet, Fisher also reported.