NAPLES — There were rousing cheers from the crowd. The sound of bagpipers and bands filled the air. Some spectators started dancing in the crowd as children scrambled to collect candy along the streets.
Several thousands family members and friends decked in green filled the streets of downtown Naples on Saturday to view the city’s 31st annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Smiling and yelling “Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” Philip Scopano, 6, and his sister, Gianna, 4, watched the parade travel past the corner of Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South.
Sitting nearby on lawn chairs were their parents, Rebecca and Anthony Scopano of Golden Gate Estates, who enjoyed the traditional Irish fare as 127 community organizations, businesses, school bands and groups marched in the parade.
Apart from the parade being a fun family event, Anthony Scopano, 37, said it was good for local businesses to draw customers in the face of a difficult economy.
Similar to many of the parade-goers, candy was one of Philip and Gianna’s favorite part of the parade.
From St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Naples, the parade traveled north on Third Street South, then east on Fifth Avenue South and south on Eighth Street South to Crayton Cove.
Parade chief marshal Patrick Mahoney said he expected a large crowd because the economy has everybody looking for free entertainment.
“This parade makes it our home,” Mahoney said.
And that’s exactly what attendees got Saturday.
Several local high school bands and step dancers strolled the streets, including at least four bands from other parts of the state.
Among the entries were participants from the University of Notre Dame, home of the Fighting Irish, Ave Maria University and Opera Naples.
This year’s parade grand marshal was Doris Reynolds, a Naples historian and longtime contributor to the Food section of the Daily News.
The largest sponsor of the parade was Bill Beynon, founder of Capital Wealth Advisors, Mahoney said.
Heading the parade was Naples Mayor Bill Barnett.
“Everybody is in good spirits,” said Barnett, who wore an oversized soft green St. Patrick’s hat.
People could complain about parade gridlock, but during a time with a tough economy, those attending can forget about it and enjoy the event and candy, Barnett said.
Barnett was joined on a green 2009 Jaguar convertible, supplied for the event by Jaguar of Naples, by his two granddaughters, Tabitha Barnett, 11, and her sister, Anastasia Barnett. 6.
Nothing could stop the celebration even when a man, dressed as an Irish clergyman, fell off a float. He got right back on and Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and the crowd made sure he was fine.
A few feet away at Third Street South near Ninth Avenue South, Jim Wyatt, his wife, Laura, and their friend, Carol Scarfi, enjoyed the morning parade.
“It makes people smile even when we are having a hard time,” said Jim Wyatt, 64, who wore an oversized soft green hat.
The East Naples couple has attended the parade for 19 years.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Carol Scarfi, 63, a friend of the Wyatts visiting from Delaware. “Everybody gets in the mood. You cannot ask for more.”