By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Last week’s first large-scale snowfall of the year was followed by several days of whipping winds that led organizers of the Gateway Harbor Ball Drop to shuffle around last-minute roadblocks in preparation for the annual event Monday night.
Rick Maier, head of the group that put the New Years festivities together for the last five years, said he spent much of the afternoon perched on top of the building, from which the five-foot ball would descend with its beaming lights, as he attempted to secure it through high wind gusts at the corner of Sweeney and Webster streets.
”We’ve been afraid of the weather, but it actually went up this afternoon,” Maier said on Monday. “We’re kind of worried about that, it may even be an issue when it comes to the fireworks.”
Maier said he still anticipated a strong showing despite the temperatures, as hardy Western New Yorkers look for a place to count down the final hours of 2012. In recent years, a crowd of up to 3,000 have swelled to the downtowns of the Twin Cities.
With a flood of food vendors and a growing list of events Maier and other organizers believe the annual party is finally starting to take off.
”Everything is ready to go,” Maier added. “The risers are up for the band, the vendors are all down here and everything looks good.”
For 130 of Tonawanda’s more mature residents, the newly introduced New Years Eve gala was launched at the Tonawanda Castle, while those with children were drawn to the Twin Cities for youth-related happenings, including a 9 p.m. balloon drop at the Rainbow Roller Rink.
On the streets of the Lumber City, worries about the weather for some dissipated with each additional bar, as those who took part in the pub crawl worked their way from location to location.
For Michele Miano, of North Tonawanda, Monday night was her first time for “the crawl” as she walked down Webster Street with a plastic, yellow mug in hand on her way to Crazy Jakes with a group of friends. It was to be her third stop of the evening.
”It’s calmed down and it’s beautiful outside,” she said. “I’m new to this, but it’s great.”
The City of Tonawanda’s Eric Wells, 27, had a late start for the Merchant Scavenger Hunt that incorporates 14 businesses on both sides of the Erie Canal. And after tiring of house parties and the City of Buffalo’s downtown version of New Year’s Eve, he felt he’d try something a little different.
”I figured if I was going to stay in the house I might as well come down and stay in Tonawanda,” Wells said.
Don Gubbins, who said he’s owned Frank’s Liquors for decades on Webster Street, noted that last year’s New Years Eve pulled the biggest crowd yet, partly because of exceptional weather. But now in its fifth year, while he had concerns over the impact of the chilly night, business-wise his store continued to bustle.
And Deborah Darling, who co-chairs the ball drop, indicated that worries over the weather began to subside with the wind, as she finalized some of the last remaining details.
”Everything’s in place,” she said. “We’re ready to go.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.