JOHNSTOWN, PA – As Thunder in the Valley entertainment started to wind down around her Sunday, Holly Powell was scanning through a clothing rack.
“I get a Thunder T-shirt every year,” the West End woman said while trying to decide between a short-sleeved souvenir shirt and a sleeveless tank. “I love this event and what it does for our city.”
For the event’s organizers, Visit Johnstown, the 2021 edition of Thunder in the Valley was apparently one worth remembering, too.
After cancelling last summer’s event due to COVID-19 and planning for this one with an ever-changing outlook, it was tough to predict a few months ago how the virus might impact the 2021 turnout, said Lisa Rager, Visit Johnstown executive director.
While her group still hadn’t added up beer sales and other totals from the weekend, there was no question that the event “exceeded expectations,” she said.
“I think we hit a home run this year – certainly better than 2019,” Rager said.
Over the past week, hotel operators as far away as Bedford reported lodging was booked full for the weekend – many of them citing Johnstown’s annual rally, which draws crowds of 100,000 or more to town yearly.
Tom and Lu Ann Campbell, of Ligonier, didn’t have to drive far to attend. They said they had missed the event after previously making annual trips to Johnstown for the rally.
“We’ve been coming for 15 years or more, and we’re glad to see it back,” Tom Campbell said while walking up Main Street toward Central Park.
Bailey’s Concessions worker John “Paw-Paw” Reid, of Gainesville, Florida, said the turnout translated into a good weekend for the company’s booths, especially on Friday and Saturday. Earlier this summer, they had a strong rebound at Laconia, New Hampshire, site of another nationally- known bike rally, and are hoping to see the same at Sturgis, South Dakota.
“People are excited for this stuff. They are tired of being inside,” Reid said.
Rager said there was no question this year’s sunshine helped Thunder in the Valley, and when that happens, it’s a success not only for the event, but also for the area as a whole, she said.
“The biggest reason we do this is that it’s an opportunity to shed a positive light on our community,” she said. “Hopefully people who come here decide to come back again. Maybe they’ll even decide to do business here or retire here.”
Powell praised the effort.
“This event is great for our city,” she said. “We need more of this kind of thing.”
‘A good crowd’
Even with the strong crowds, Johnstown Police Capt. Chad Miller said incidents were minor all weekend. No major vehicle accidents were reported.
“There was one fight during the Colt Ford concert. Two people taken into custody,” Miller said.
A Dubois-area man was arrested for throwing a punch at another man, but otherwise, there were only a handful of “drunk and disorderly” incidents.
“It was a good crowd all weekend, overall,” Miller said. “The parade was a big hit, and it was great to see so many people in town again.”