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Italian Festival organizers planning for event everyone remembers

The plans to return the Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival to the Heritage Port summer lineup, organizers said, began as soon as the 2020 edition was officially canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The festival, a staple of the Ohio Valley for decades, will be back July 23-25 and organizers said Friday that there will be no condensed version of the celebration. It will be the festival everyone remembers.

“We went in with that thought,” said Michele Fabbro, president of the event’s board of directors.

Though the board of directors’ final decision came Thursday, it was no spur-of-the-moment choice. The board had consulted with several city officials, along with Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble. Members also kept in contact with the business community.

“We’ve talked to some business people who have been going through this all this time,” Fabbro said, “and we were encouraged by that.”

The festival’s live entertainment is set and ready to perform at Heritage Port. Vendors must abide by the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, including the requisite 6-foot distances for safety.

“The guy that does the placing of the vendors, he’ll take care of that for us,” festival coordinator Janice Whipkey said. “And we’ll have to have sanitizing stations.”

There will be some alterations, mainly with the bocce tournament associated with the festival, held on the main floor of WesBanco Arena. Tournament organizer Bob Triveri said the tournament for people with disabilities won’t happen this year. The main tournament, which features 128, competitors may happen before or after the festival, but the hope is that it will be played.

Triveri said the festival’s return is something many around the Ohio Valley are glad to see.

“People want to be out,” Triveri said. “They want to get out and want to do things. They’re cooped up in their houses and they don’t like it.”

Undo’s remains the title sponsor of the event, and Fabbro said there are many other sponsors who have stepped up as well, even during an economically turbulent time as the pandemic, to make sure the festival can go on. The board is still looking for sponsors, but those who have signed up so far are a major reason that the 2021 festival is a go.

“That was huge,” Fabbro said, “and that did play into the decision to go ahead. We want the festival to go on as it has always gone on. And if we have those sponsors and all the wonderful patrons that have come out to celebrate with us, we’re hoping for another 38 years.”

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