Franco Harris tests his immaculate hula-hooping skills against some youngsters. (Photo/Jacob Flannick)

Northsiders and visitors alike braved the 90-plus degree temperaturse for food, fun and camaraderie at Celebrations in the Park on July 24 in Allegheny Commons Park. Whether looking to promote their businesses, showcase their talents, or to offer services or assistance, vendors provided an afternoon that brought locals together to celebrate their neighborhoods.

The various features of this celebration appealed to the diverse crowd. The distinct melodies of local bands lingered in the air, entertaining the crowd throughout the day. Between a hoola-hoop workshop, petting zoo, a bouncy playground, trackless train and giant life-sized puppet parades, the only problem faced by those in attendance was where to start first.

A popular booth was run by Cheryl Capezzuti, who showcased her artistry in puppet making as she handed out brilliantly designed and colored puppet costumes for her noble puppeteers to wear as they paraded throughout the park in a spectacle.

“I want to teach people the art of making puppets and the process behind it,” the inspired Capezzuti said, who is the founder of Puppets for Pittsburgh, an organization that lends giant puppets to various local business, specifically non-profits.

Children were not the only ones engaging in the fun. Adults, specifically one by the name of Franco Harris, could also not resist the urge to pick up a hoop and give it a shot.

As the Honorary Chairperson of this seventh annual event, Harris found himself in celebration alongside his Northside neighbors while twirling a hoola-hoop around his waist.

When asked why he chose the Northside, Harris wasn’t sure where to start. “I love it because of the history,” Harris said, “and the diversity is unbelievable.”

One running theme of the event was health and wellness, with engaging activities such as the hoola-hoop workshop.

Sarah Parker, founder of Evolve Productions, an inspired dance and production company providing real-world dance opportunities for serious dance students, challenged people to pick up a hoola-hoop.

“It is actually a really good exercise for strengthening the abdominals,” Sarah said while catching a breath.

There was an on-hand Chiropractor, Dr. Thomas Uhler of the Observatory Hill Chiropractic Center, offering complementary check-ups and diagnoses to those experiencing back problems.

“It makes people more aware,” said Dr. Uhler. “If people have back problems, they’ll know who to call,” he continued with a smile, in recognition of the ensuing benefits for his business, as well as other businesses, by participating in this event.

Amidst the various exhibitors, musical and theatrical performers, food vendors and artists, members of the Northside/Northshore Chamber of Commerce, responsible for coordinating this event, admired the festivities from their welcome tent and were pleased with the turnout.

Robin Rosemary Miller, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and longtime Northside resident, emphasized the significance this fairly young event has within her community.

“We just want to bring people into our neighborhood,” Miller said. “We hope every year to tell people we have beautiful urban parks in a beautiful neighborhood, and we are searching for ways to bring the Northside up to par with other communities.”

Aside from other community get-togethers in areas such as the Southside and Shadyside, this Northside celebration relied more on community involvement and initiatives rather than funding.

“This event is more grass-roots than other festivals; more organic, from the ground up,” said John Graf, owner of The Priory Hotel and a Chamber of Commerce board member. “People are here because they want to be here.”