|By G. Michael Dobbs
Realtor John Michon (left) is seen outside of the Collegian Court with its new owner Bill Stetson
Reminder Publications submitted photo
CHICOPEE – Two men are bringing back iconic institutions in the city. The Collegian Court Restaurant, an eatery downtown that served generations of Chicopee residents, is planning to re-open in the fall and The Kielbasa Festival is slated to start up again next spring.
Thomas Kielbania Jr. has announced reviving the Kielbasa Festival. He explained to Reminder Publications that he is not presenting the festival under the auspices of a nonprofit organization, but instead it will be for-profit business that will seek to assist nonprofits in the city raise money. He has formed Kielbasa Fest LLC.
The World Kielbasa Festival ran from 1974 through the mid-1990s. Numerous issues arose about the management of the festival as well as rising expenses led to its demise.
Kielbania’s announcement came as the Fest-of-All management announced the annual Szot Park event would close and shift to downtown for a different event. He praised Robert Liswell, who headed Fest-of-All, for his efforts.
Kielbania, a musician who founded the popular band Orange Crush and a Chicopee resident, said through his Facebook page (www.facebook.com/KielbasaFestival) the festival has elicited much support and inquiries about where and how to buy tickets. He said he has heard from people in Pennsylvania, California and Texas.
“Nothing has been this easy to promote,” he said, and added, “The response has been insane.”
He announced on the Facebook page, “Let me assure all those out there that think this is a hoax. It is not. The Kielbasa Festival is real and is going to happen.”
Kielbania plans to open a storefront downtown to promote the festival and sell merchandise. He intends to stage the festival downtown event May 15 through 18, 2014. He is seeking people or organizations to present activities at the festival such as a kielbasa-eating contest and a Miss Chicopee pageant.
Although the cost of liquor liability insurance is one of the issues that derailed several area festivals, Kielbania said he is not going to be selling beer at the event. Since the festival would be presented downtown, Kielbania said attendees could buy beer from the existing bars and restaurants.
“The festival is not interested in taking money from them,” he said. “It has to benefit the city and the people downtown.”
He will be meeting with the police to develop a budget for security and is starting to work on booking musical acts. Besides the Kielbasa festival standard of national and locally known polka bands, Kielbania want to bring in acts to attract young people, families and internationally known performer Van Morrison, with whom he has a personal connection through his father who played with the star.
He will be launching a website for the festival soon.
Bill Stetson, who owns The Rumbleseat on Springfield Street, is presently completing the renovations to the Collegian Court restaurant and is planning a re-opening on Sept. 1.
Stetson said that although he is updating the facility he is trying to keep “the old fashioned look as much was we can.”
He bought the property from the Szparas family in 2012 and began renovations. He said he didn’t need a tour of the property, he explained. It was the site for the dinner after his mother’s funeral and for the celebration of his daughter’s christening.
So far, Stetson has installed a new roof and air conditioning, new booths in the bar area, and a tin ceiling in the bar. He has replaced carpeting with hard wood floors and refinished the wood paneled walls.
He is also re-opening the patio, which had been long closed.
The dining room’s distinctive wagon wheel lights have been refinished and will be used as accent lighting.
“Everything we’ve done is to preserve the restaurant’s integrity,” he said. “Everything old is new again.”
He explained that while the Collegian Court became well known as a place for functions, he also wants people to come there on a regular basis. He has hired a chef to develop a new menu, which he said would still offer many of the traditional Polish items for which the restaurant was famous.
Already he is receiving requests to book the restaurant for events.
“People have told me I’m saving Chicopee,” he said.
If he is successful with the Collegian Court, he said he would consider opening another restaurant downtown because of its convenient location off of U.S. Interstate 91.
Comments From Our Readers:
Login to Post a Response
Congratulations Mr. Stimson and
much success in your venture. Having grown up in the, west End, the Collegian Court Restaurant was a landmark. O look forward to visiting soon.