NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> Move over Punxsutawney Phil. Newtown Ned will be making his big debut on Sunday.
The local “groundhog” will be front and center during the first-ever Groundhog Day celebration on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on historic State Street in Newtown Borough.
Ned’s Cigar Store, which is planning what is sure to be a memorable event, received unanimous approval in December from the Newtown Borough Council to close State Street between Centre and Washington for the celebration, which will benefit two Newtown Borough food banks.
Wearing top hats just like in the movie, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray, the guys at Ned’s will be asking Newtown Ned not only to make a weather prediction, but also to weigh in on Super Bowl 54, which will be taking place that evening at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, between Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers.
“We’re doing this as a fun-raiser to raise support and awareness for the local food banks here in Newtown Borough,” said Ned’s Cigar store owner Matt Arlen. “So everyone who comes, we’re asking them to bring items for the local food bank,” he said.
The date - 02-02-2020 - also happens to be one of 12 palindrome days in the 21st Century, noted Arlen, making the event that much more noteworthy.
The fun begins around 10:30 a.m. with tunes spun by local disc jockey Eric Scott Gold. Raffle tickets also go on sale to benefit the food banks at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Newtown Presbyterian Church.
In addition, the Coffee Room will be giving out hot chocolate to warm up the crowds. And food donation bins will be set up on the street.
An official ceremony will begin at Noon in front of Ned’s Shed, which will be located on a flatbed truck parked on South State Street. Local Judge Mick Petrucci will swear in the “Keepers of the Groundhog” and Mayor Charles Swartz will proclaim Newtown Ned as the third most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania, behind Punxsutawney Phil and Gus, the Pennsylvania Lottery’s lovable rodent.
Around 12:15, Newtown Ned is expected to “pop out” of his shed and make two predictions - the winner of the Super Bowl and whether there will be an early spring or a prolonged winter.
“I don’t know whether we’ll have 50 people here or 5,000. I doubt the 5,000, but it’s starting to gain a little traction out there on social media. But once again, if we raise $700 to $2,000 worth of food for the food banks we’ll be giving back to the community and helping. And that’s what it’s all about.”
The fun-raiser is the latest in a series of tongue and cheek events organized by Ned’s in support of community causes and made through its nonprofit Ned Maher Society.
The nonprofit is named in memory of Ned Maher who open Ned’s Cigar Store in the 1940s and ran it for a number of years before being sent overseas to fight in World War II. He was killed in action during the Italian campaign and never came home. A classic 1940s-era photo displayed at the store shows Maher with Charles Duckworth, Newtown’s last surviving veteran of the Civil War.
“We look for fun things to do while we’re giving back to the community,” explained Arlen.
For example, a few years ago they celebrated the Olympics by putting together a jigsaw puzzle of the United States. “That started off with three beers and eating an entire rotisserie chicken,” he laughed. “It was bad, but we ended up raising $1800 for a little girl who was trying to get a diabetic alert dog.”
They’ve also supported Newtown Township Police Officer Jules Ferraro and his participation in a suicide prevention walk. They raised $500 to help Jules as he raised awareness of police officers and first responders suffering from PTSD and at risk of committing suicide.
And last October they raised money for a State Street hair stylist who was out of work for an extended period of time while she was battling breast cancer.
Her colleagues were cutting hair on Sundays with the proceeds earmarked for their colleague.
“So we thought, ‘Let’s have a little fun with this.’ I had been growing my mustache and goatee since I had retired from my previous job. So I said to them if you raise $500 I would shave my mustache, my beard and my head. We wound up with $1100.”
He added an eyebrow trim to boost the donation up to $1700. The haircut and shave was broadcast live on FaceBook.
If you can’t attend the Groundhog Day event, non-perishable items and monetary donations in support of the two food banks can be dropped off at Ned’s Cigar Store, 4 South State Street, Newtown.