VIRGINIA — Land of the Loon visitors dreaming of meatballs-on-a-stick and Italian sausage with peppers will have to make do with savory memories. The Italian-American Club, also referred to as the Sons of Italy, is closing up shop.

It ends a tradition that started with the very first Land of the Loon Festival more than 40 years ago. It was a bittersweet decision, says President Rocci Lucarelli, who has been involved since the beginning.

"It's going to be tough. It's fun, but there comes a time when things come to an end," Lucarelli said in an interview at the Northside Virginia home he shares with wife Carol.

But members are getting older and some have health problems that make it difficult for them to be on their feet for two or three days, cooking and cleaning, transporting supplies and all the other tasks associated with the project.

"We roasted a pig one year," Lucarelli recalled. That attracted many customers to their stand. Years later the club acquired the pavilion where they have been located since the 1980s. All of the food buildings are owned by the city, Lucarelli said.

The club has been known for its sausage and beef. Their special seasonings and peppers, mushrooms and onions were always popular, Lucarelli said. Fraboni's made a special sauce, and some years back the group introduced the "wop-sicle" — meatballs on a stick and dipped in marinara sauce. "We were kind of making fun of ourselves" with the wop-sicle, he said, with the word "wop," referring to a person of Italian descent.

Lucarelli talked about the many people who would stop by to make a tasty purchase, saying the Italian-American booth was the only food stand they wanted to visit.

"It was work, but fun," he said. Patrons would start stopping by as soon as the parade was finished, often for a cup of coffee. "Hopefully there would be enough guys.... We would store things in the monkey house," referring to the stone structure that was once home to Olcott Park's animal attraction. "For 40 years you were never home on Father's Day," Lucarelli said — Land of the Loon weekend coincides with Father's Day.

With a wistful look in his eyes, Lucarelli said, "I'll miss it. Ten years ago we were not going to do it — it went on another six years. That's it now."

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