Event celebrates Harry Stevens

NILES – Last summer, thousands of people crowded into downtown Niles to celebrate one of the city’s most recognizable names Harry Stevens.

“We were very happy with last year and I’d consider it a big success,” said Ryan McNaughton, Harry Stevens Day committee member.

Now McNaughton, in conjunction with other committee members, the Avenue and Main and Trumbull County’s Tourism Board, is gearing up for the second annual Harry Stevens Hot Dog Day, and expectations for this year’s festival are even bigger.

“Our goal is to try to double last year’s turnout,” McNaughton said.

Harry Stevens Day will take place June 29, alongside the city of Niles’ Fourth of July Parade.

Stevens, an icon in Trumbull County, is credited with the invention of the hot dog, baseball scorecard, and by many accounts, the drinking straw.

Stevens is buried in Niles City Cemetery and his gravesite is often visited by local historians and guided tours.

“Here’s a guy who left quite a legacy in Niles,” McNaughton said. “He gave so much to the city when he was alive, and especially after his passing. The first thing we want to do is respect the man and what he meant to the city.”

Additionally, event organizers see the festival as a way to draw area residents back to downtown Niles.

“That’s really what the group Avenue and Main is all about, to give people a reason to get together,” McNaughton said.

While the frigid temperatures and snow flurries may make the June event seem a long way off, McNaughton said putting on a good show takes months of planning.

“Just a handful of us are responsible (for) coming up with the money for this, so it takes time,” he said.

The first and biggest money-maker for Harry Stevens Day is “Harry Stevens Uncorked.” This fundraiser event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. March 29 at Ciminero’s Banquet Centre in Niles, where guests can sample local wines and cheeses, as well as hors d’oeuvres and chocolates. The wine tasting will also feature live music, basket raffles and a 50/50 drawing.

According to McNaughton, this event raised about $3,000 for Harry Stevens Day last year. All told, the June festival takes about $12,000 to fund.

“We’re trying to do everything bigger this year and that includes the wine and cheese tasting,” McNaughton said.

Celebrity pourers will be on hand, including Casey Malone from The Casey Malone Show.

All attendees will receive a gift bag containing a limited edition Harry Stevens Day memento wine glass, as well as a wine-scented candle.

McNaughton hopes that garnering more funding from the wine tasting and other fundraisers will allow organizers to add new and popular events to the Harry Stevens Day festival.

Among those potential additions include a hot dog-eating contest and a Miss Niles Beauty Pageant, both of which are still in the planning stages.

“Those are the main new things we have planned so far,” McNaughton said. “We’re hoping to keep adding to the list as it gets closer.”

Also, several of last year’s successful activities will return in 2014.

“We’re very appreciative to the city for allowing us to piggy back with the 4th of July parade,” McNaughton said. “City officials have been very helpful and all the feedback has been positive.”