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GC Belmont Festival Ends Up A Winning Ticket

An estimated 11,000 people flock to Seventh Street to eat, drink and be merry.

If Norman Rockwell were still alive today, he would have had more than his share of classic Americana scenes to paint had he found himself around Garden City’s Seventh Street on Friday, June 8. For it was here that multitudes of people came out to attend the Garden City Belmont Festival, a family-friendly event that featured carnival games, pony rides, live music, loads of food stands and the 3rd Annual Wing-Off, a contest with bragging rights going to the local restaurant voted to make the best buffalo wings.

Fifteen years ago, the Garden City Belmont Festival (GCBF) started out as a parade before switching over to becoming a festival three years ago. According to Garden City Merchants Group Chairman John Wilton, the most recently held GCBF saw an estimated 11,000 people and their families come out to enjoy the festivities. As the quintet FiveStone pounded out a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” people of all ages ambled about, oftentimes pushing strollers, having leashed dogs in tow or both. Nearby, a line slowly wended its way in front of the Wing-Off staging area, where for five dollars, diners received a plate and a ballot as seven restaurants dished out buffalo wing platters for sampling. Proceeds benefit Nassau County Firefighter’s Operation Wounded Warrior project, which provides needed items for injured United States military personnel. With JP McGeevers and Lani’s Marketplace being winners the two years prior, Rein at the Garden City Hotel, Walk Street, Pop’s Wings, Famous Dave’s and Murphy’s Bar and Grill were vying for the title. White Plains residents Fernell High and Tasha James came down for the day and weren’t shy about sharing their preferences.

“I found Murphy’s to be just spicy enough with their sauce ending up slightly tastier than anything else I tried,” High explained. “I liked Lani’s because it has a slight teriyaki sweetness but I’d go with Pop’s as my second choice because it tasted like a more traditional buffalo wing,” admitted James.

Further on, rock and roll gave way to the classic big band sounds of the New Vintage Orchestra and the Village Music Makers. Children lined up outside of a booth to shoot pucks at a booth sponsored by the New York Islanders. Face painting proved to be a popular offering as were pony rides, which were brought in for the first time ever. The Garden City Merchants Group also did its part, hanging up the 44 entries submitted by K-eighth-grade students to compete in the festival’s annual poster contest. The winners wound up being Mary Foxen in third place, Kaylah Bozkurtian in second place and first place winner Peter Sansky-Traficant. As an added bonus, all three will have their entries hanging in Belmont Park’s community space for the next year.

The horseracing theme was never far away, whether it was Sammy the Bugler playing his “Call to the Post” to get the festival going, or the use of the actual Belmont Park starting gate as a barrier on the far end of Seventh Street. Perhaps the most interesting connection was the booth set up by Racing For Home, Inc., a nonprofit organization established to rescue ex-racehorses from the slaughterhouse. Sporting a Miss Gotham crown and sash, Connecticut native Acacia Courtney founded the non-profit. She is using it as her social cause while competing to become the next Miss New York, who will represent the Empire State in the next Miss America pageant.

“I’ve been doing this since 2009 and what my folks and I have done is rescue nine ex-racehorses, stabling them in Connecticut,” she explained. “Our goal is to save them from the slaughterhouse or any similar bad situation with the hopes of either retraining them as a therapy animal or having them end up in a good home where they’ll be loved and treated well.”

As the evening wound down to an end, children raced up and down the street, dueling with glo stick swords as J.P. McGeevers became the first two-time wing off champion. As the crowds thinned out and families casually made their way home, the evening ended up being the kind of bucolic scenerio that would have undoubtedly put a smile on Rockwell’s face.