Chair challengers vs. chair champions

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Canonsburg has been the talk of the town lately, but the focus hasn’t been its beloved Grammy-winning crooner or favorite “American Idol” contestant. This week – it’s all about the chairs.


From the Connecticut Post to the San Francisco Chronicle, the story spread about the outlawing of a quirky local tradition after Canonsburg Borough Council voted 7-1 Monday to restrict placing chairs on the sidewalk in the days leading up to its popular Independence Day parade, which drew an estimated 50,000 people this year.


Starting next year, folks hoping to save a prime spot for viewing the parade will have to wait until 6 a.m. July 4. This year, the chairs were first noticed June 22.


Council mentioned multiple concerns, including chairs being chained together, caution tape being used to section off entire blocks, blind residents having difficulty navigating through the chair-laden area, former residents being unable to find a place to park and heavy winds blowing the seats into traffic.


In the days following the decision, people on both sides of the issue have made their voices heard.


Mayor David Rhome said about 50 people have approached him about the restrictions so far, most of whom agree with what council is trying to accomplish with regard to safety, but have told him that waiting until 6 a.m. the day of the parade is too extreme.


Rhome said he plans to voice the concerns of some of his constituents – both for and against the restrictions – during the next council meeting in August. He also said he supports council’s decision 100 percent and doesn’t want to compromise safety.


“It’s not to dampen the celebration or change tradition – it’s for the safety of the people,” said Rhome, who encouraged residents seeking change to reach out to their respective council members.


This week, a Facebook page called “Save the Canonsburg parade chairs” surfaced, drawing numerous comments and nearly 200 followers.


“It is a hazard!” Rosemary Szafraniec posted.


Theresa Cunningham Mitchell wrote that her car was damaged by flying chairs during a storm about five years ago.


“I just think its crazy that people are complaining about how hazardous these chairs are just because one or two might have blew off the sidewalk the night before,” Kristy Ieraci posted.


Many seemed to be of the opinion that a few days’ leniency is in order.


Nadeen Steffey, Main Street manager of Canonsburg’s Our Town Cooperative, believes that 24 to 48 hours before the parade would be a fair compromise.


Steffey said she was inspired to organize the “Parade of Chairs” event, in which cash prizes are given out for the most original and flamboyant space savers, after moving to the area about five years ago.


“The atmosphere that I see when the chairs are starting to go out is like Christmas,” she said. “It’s the whole community joining together.”


State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter, also said a two-day time frame might be best.


“Well truthfully, I think trying to wait till 6 a.m. on the day of the event is a bit shortsighted, and may cause more battles and headaches than expected,” he said.


Solobay said it’s amazing the Canonsburg chair debate reached the level of notoriety that it did, including several national late-night television show hosts joking about it and WDVE radio in Pittsburgh interviewing an Observer-Reporter staff writer regarding the issue. He said he thinks the attention could be positive – as long as parade patrons aren’t scared off.


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