‘Live New Wilmington’ Unites Town with Events

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — There’s plenty to do these days in downtown New Wilmington, Pa. There has been for a long time. But a problem Katanya Cathcart and Nicole Hunter saw was the lack of communication about the events.

Neither fliers hung in grocery stores nor ads in newsletters were cutting it. When the only people who know about an event are those who play a role in planning it or who just happen to drive in on the day it’s held, large crowds seldom result.

So, with the help of others in the community, Cathcart and Hunter started Live New Wilmington to organize and promote events.

“People our age don’t know what Kiwanis means. But they are beautiful people in our community doing good things,” Cathcart says. “Our intention has always been to bring people together to appreciate each other and all that New Wilmington is, was and will be.”

Work began in 2015 with the First Friday series before Live New Wilmington was created.

“It was based on the business district and how we could get the local crowd and people from out of town to come and frequent our businesses,” Cathcart says.

And last year, the nonprofit’s first, the series remained the key part of the slate. Held the first Friday of each month from May through September, each features a different theme such as Pie & Vine – pizzas paired with wine – Kids Carnival and Community Dinner.

“We shut down a big section of Market Street and it really gives it a different ambience. People, for whatever reason, think it’s really fun to sit at a table in the middle of the street,” Cathcart says with a laugh. “They think it’s this brilliant thing.”

In those events, Cathcart and Hunter saw the area’s populations mix. Residents from Shenango on the Green, an assisted living center near Westminster College, interacted with kids during the Kids Carnival. Students from Westminster College ate with downtown business owners during the Community Dinner.

“All of these events are quirky and Katanya and Wendy [Farmerie, owner of The Silk Road] planned that on purpose. Quirk is what gets people talking, which is what this was all about,” Hunter says. “It’s contagious. Their joy is contagious when everyone’s together, especially with kids around.”

Ultimately, the goal of Live New Wilmington is getting people together, not always easy given the increasingly diverse segments of the population.

“We have this thriving university where half of our population is the student base. And there are lots of young families moving to the area,” Cathcart says, in addition to longtime residents, the Amish and college faculty. “It’s a really interesting time of people coming together trying to find commonalities. Some really practical ways to get people together were through events.”

Live New Wilmington helped put on a “Welcome to Town” event during move-in weekend at the college, inviting students to visit the downtown and learn what’s available to them.

“It leaks into the college atmosphere,” says Hunter, who also works as assistant director of alumni relations at Westminster. “It’s an open door to communication that allows [the community] to be part of their life. It’s important for the community to adopt Westminster and we’re working to bridge that gap.”

With events held almost every weekend – at least two are planned each month through the summer – the business owners have greeted the new crowds to the downtown with open arms.

“The retailers were so happy with a lot of events in town. You bring in a population – sometimes it’s families – that aren’t necessarily the ones who go into shops,” Cathcart says. “These hit a consumer base that would frequent shops. So many people said, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know this was here,’ and shopped around.”

The event this year that most excites Hunter and Cathcart is Donut Daze, a two-day event, the First Friday set for June 2. It kicks off on Friday, National Doughnut Day, with a doughnut crawl through downtown where participants pick and fill a doughnut box with delectable treats from 15 bakeries throughout the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.

On Saturday, three bike races – of 10, 30 and 60 miles – require the racers to eat a dozen doughnuts across three checkpoints. About 250 people are registered so far.

“I grew up in New Wilmington and go bike riding, but the way they planned the route made me cry,” Hunter says of last year’s race. “There were little Amish girls just waiting for bikers to pass. They knew we were coming and they watched all day.”

Talk to most people in New Wilmington and they’re proud that their town is friendly and community-minded. But with this surge of events, of things to do that help citizens engage with one another, it’s boosted that point of pride.

“People who live in New Wilmington know there’s a strong community in New Wilmington,” Cathcart says. “I don’t think they always have opportunities to interact with the community. They know it exists and can feel its presence, but before there weren’t really platforms to come together in a deeper, celebratory way.”

Pictured: Katanya Cathcart and Nicole Hunter.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.