Windsor July 4 celebration returns

Published 3:07 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2022

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Town leaders aim to revive event’s former status

The Town of Windsor’s Independence Day celebration made its scaled-back return Monday, July 4, at Wesley F. Garris Event Park, featuring a smaller crowd than when the event was last held pre-pandemic at a larger scale. The light attendance is helping fuel motivation among town leaders to return the celebration to its former glory.

Monday’s event featured live music, food trucks and multiple bounce houses for children, but it lacked a variety of other accompanying offerings that the celebration has had in the past, including free food, an antique car show and fireworks in the evening.

Windsor Town Manager William Saunders and Mayor Glyn T. Willis were positive in the wake of the event, though, pleased to see it back for the first time since 2019.

“The event went well, particularly considering it was on a much smaller scale than pre-pandemic years and (considering) the number of events in other nearby localities,” Saunders said.

Locally, Isle of Wight County held an Independence Day event at Heritage Park on Sunday, July 3, and the town of Smithfield held festivities on Friday, July 1. Each event had fireworks.

“I’m glad we were able to work something out and have an activity,” Mayor Willis said. “As we evaluate how this worked out, we’ll see what we can do next year, particularly as we coordinate with what the county’s doing and other localities are doing. 

“We want to do something in Windsor, we’ve just got to figure out how to coordinate it across all the other things that are going on,” he added.

Windsor Town Council members in attendance at the town’s celebration Monday included Vice Mayor Greg Willis and Councilman George Stubbs.

Stubbs said it was a lovely evening and pleasant way to celebrate the Fourth of July, but he noted that the turnout was lighter than he had hoped for.

“I would have liked to have seen the whole lawn full,” he said.

The vice mayor said his wife counted a crowd of 35 people in front of the band at the park near the beginning of the event, which ran from 6-9 p.m., and he said Saunders estimated there were about 50 or so at the bounce houses across the street.

Mayor Willis noted that in the past, Windsor had, in some respects, the premier Fourth of July event in the area.

The vice mayor said, “You just ask the questions around, and everybody would tell you Windsor’s Fourth of July celebration was top of the line.”

The event started out as the Windsor Ruritan Club and Windsor Woman’s Club’s Fourth of July celebration, and then the town provided its support, he noted.

Stubbs said that free food and fireworks were the drawing points.

“In prior years, the civic organizations in town were providing free food, so you could come get a hot dog and a treat and listen to a band and stay for the fireworks, and people just enjoyed that,” Mayor Willis said.

Greg Willis said the county and town would split the cost of the fireworks, and Stubbs said the fireworks show ran from 20 to 25 minutes.

“For Windsor, it was a big event. I think people liked coming to Windsor,” the mayor said. “(The fireworks) were shot off at the high school, and you could see them from most of town.”

Stubbs said the town would have traffic all over the place as people gathered to see the show.

“They would park everywhere they could park,” he said. “Community Drive had people parked on it. ‘Hey, can I use your driveway?’ ‘Well, certainly, go ahead and park.’ They’d walk out into the street, we’d walk out to the corner — it was fun.”

Other events were offered earlier in the day to help convince people to spend the afternoon and evening out in Windsor.

“Greg (Willis) would do the car show, and we’d have some stuff for children, so there were a number of events that would bring people out for the activities,” Mayor Willis said.

The vice mayor made it clear where he and others in the town stand with regard to Windsor’s larger-scale Independence Day celebration.

“We truly want our July 4th celebration back,” he said. “It brought a lot of people to town, it brought a lot of revenue in, people spent a lot of money in town, they went to all the restaurants, they bought gas, they bought cigarettes, they bought beer, there was a lot of revenue generated on that afternoon, and it’s good for the community. It’s good (public relations) for the civic organizations that were involved, it’s good PR for the face of the town, quite honestly.”

The mayor acknowledged that there has been public interest in reviving the event.

“For the past year, we got calls, and as we went up through June, we were getting calls from citizens asking whether or not we were going to do something,” he said.

He also expressed a desire to meet public demand.

“If the citizens want us to do something, then we want to support them and do what serves them best,” he said.

The vice mayor said, “George and I have talked two or three times, and he, like myself, has what I would qualify as a real interest in trying to reawaken the town’s Fourth of July (event). Funding will be an issue because the cost of fireworks has escalated dramatically.”

He also noted that finding licensed vendors may be a difficult task as well.

“I don’t know how I feel yet about vendors, so to speak, because we’ve always had a free celebration,” he said.

This year’s event represented a break from that tradition, as the food available from the Soul of Suffolk and Star Jayz BBQ food trucks was for purchase.

“The free food — I don’t know whether we can do that again,” Stubbs said, noting that it would be costly for civic organizations to foot that bill.

Greg Willis emphasized the difficulty of restoring Windsor’s July 4th celebration to its former status.

“Once something goes to sleep, goes into a coma, which it did for three years, it’s hard to try to get ’em off the ventilator, so to speak,” he said. “I hate to put it in that context, but that’s kind of what we’re up against, and I hope we can pull it off. I hope we can find some funding for the fireworks, because that’s what I have heard the most about — ‘What about the fireworks? What about the fireworks?’ So I think that’s something that we’ve got to prioritize, to find funding to pull the fireworks off.

“I think we’re going to have a conversation with Joel Acree and Mr. (Don) Rosie as well, the two county board of supervisors members for the southern end of the county, and see how (does the county) input in collaboration with the town,” he continued. “Instead of being in competition with us, how about getting into a collaboration with us?”

Stubbs agreed that to restore Windsor’s large-scale event, work needs to be done between the towns of Windsor and Smithfield and the county to pool resources so they will not have competing fireworks shows.

“I do not want to see us in competition with the county or Smithfield,” Stubbs said.

The vice mayor described how a successful arrangement worked previously, leading to separate fireworks shows by Windsor and Smithfield.

“The county collaborated with the town of Smithfield and the town of Windsor, both,” Willis said. “The county would give you X-number of dollars, and each town would throw in some money to have a fireworks celebration.”

He also said he would love to bring the car show back, recalling how it featured 60 vehicles back in the 2018-19 time frame.

Stubbs said, in summary, that town leaders have some work to do to revive the larger-scale Independence Day celebration in Windsor.

“I intend to try to work on it,” he said. “We’re going to see what we can do, and that’s about all I can say right now.”

Greg Willis said, “It’s going to take a communitywide interest and effort to put in.”