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Scorcher weekend means another robust Ribfest

John Law

By John Law, Niagara Falls Review

Chelsea Cameron of Montreal digs in to lunch Sunday at the 13th annual Niagara Falls Ribfest. Huge crowds attended all three days of the event. PHOTO: John Law / Niagara Falls Review

Chelsea Cameron of Montreal digs in to lunch Sunday at the 13th annual Niagara Falls Ribfest. Huge crowds attended all three days of the event. PHOTO: John Law / Niagara Falls Review

If it was the final year at Niagara Square, the Niagara Falls Ribfest went out on a hot streak.

The Rotary Club of Niagara Falls Sunrise's perennial crowdpleaser racked up huge crowds over the weekend despite some slight rain Sunday, threatening last year's mark of 23,000 people and $48,000 raised.

Three straight hot and humid days brought out the crowds and sent beer, soda and water sales soaring, said co-chairman Scott Wright. Now in its 13th year, the event has become a Father's Day tradition in Niagara Falls.

But the tradition may have to find a new home, depending on plans for the recently closed Niagara Square mall. Wright says Ribfest organizers will soon meet with the property's new owners to discuss continuing the event in the mall parking lot, where it has been held for four years since leaving the former Optimist Park.

Niagara Square closed May 1.

“If we can't get those assurances, we'll have to look at finding a new venue. Which we don't want to do.”

Despite some criticism about moving from a park to a parking lot, Wright says Niagara Square has been ideal for Ribfest. It's close to the highway, offers lots of parking, and has plenty of amenities. Attendance has risen slightly since the move.

If they're forced to relocate, organizers will revisit a list of about 20 sites looked at four years ago when the popular Optimist Park was sold to developers.

“We looked at a number of different properties and weighed the pros and cons,” he said. “A central location that has exposure is best for us.”

While a site like Firemen's Park may seem obvious, Wright says it doesn't offer adequate parking and is on the outskirts of the city. For a three-day event as big as Ribfest, it would be a challenge.

“That's unfortunate, because it is a beautiful park.”

This year's six ribbers had their usual long lines and faithful customers. Server Stephanie Jones of Fat Boys Barbecue said the hotter the weekend, the better the business.

“People like coming out in the sunshine, the people are so friendly here,” she said. “It's a great environment, and people make it so worth it. Of course, the customers too.”

Money raised at Ribfest supports groups like Pathstone Mental Health, Rotary House and Habitat for Humanity.

jlaw@postmedia.com