The Fourth of July in Westchester is a perfect example of how the community maintains its small-town feel in a big city. The community celebrates with block parties, BBQs and of course, the LAX Coastal Fourth of July Parade. This year is no different, and the 22nd annual parade will take place on Monday, July 4 at 11 a.m. down Loyola Blvd. from Westchester Park to Loyola Marymount University. The 2022 parade theme is “Yours for a Better Community: Celebrating the Best of America,” in honor of Howard Drollinger’s 100th birthday. Howard was an entrepreneur and philanthropist, who would sign all of his letters with “Yours for a Better Westchester.”
One family that could easily sign their letters the same is the Widmers.
Cyndi and Tony Widmer have lived in Westchester their whole lives. Cyndi attended Loyola Village School, Orville Wright Middle School and Westchester High. Tony attended Westchester Lutheran School, St. Bernard High School, and then Westchester High. They truly are locals by every definition of the word. When it comes to work, Cyndi doesn’t even have to travel far, because she works as a teacher at the preschool next door to her house, Westchester Wonder Kids! She has worked there for years and all three of her sons attended the preschool with her. Tony worked in the film industry for 30 years and is now an operating engineer of heavy equipment for large projects.
Cyndi has lived in the same home on Loyola Blvd. since 1968 when her parents bought a corner house down the street from Loyola Marymount University. Now she and Tony have raised their family—3 sons, Wade age 23, Wes age 18 and Will age 17–in the same home she grew up in.
Cyndi’s dad passed away in 2020, but he always said that the parade was the best thing about owning their home. He had been there for every parade since its inception in 2000. Their home continues to be a central part of the event. They provide electricity for the PA system, they help with parking, and the parade committee knows that if they need anything at all, they can ask the Widmers.
In 2008, the Widmer’s oldest son, Wade, came up with the idea to sell snow cones on the parade route to make some extra summer pocket money. And with their great location, right behind the parade’s center stage and central hub, a Westchester tradition was born!
Wade and his brothers have always run the stand on their own, and for the last 14 years, they’ve enjoyed the whole experience. They look forward to saying “hi” to people that they haven’t seen all year and seeing each child’s face light up when they hand them the colorful and refreshing treat. They offer six flavors and are happy to make everyone’s favorite: the rainbow with all of them in one!
The Widmers share that they usually sell between 600-900 snow cones on parade day, but not surprisingly, the sales are dependent on the weather: the hotter the day, the bigger the demand. They have always charged $1 for the snow cones and have no plans to raise the price, even as inflation soars.
“When it is sunny and warm, we can sell up to 900 cones but when it is cloudy, sales will dip to 400-500,” said Tony. “Money was never a big part of it, it was about having the stand for our community. It is about seeing the little kids run up with their crinkled-up dollar bill to get a snow cone.”
The line for the icy treats sometimes extends two full house lengths.
When their middle son, Wes, got involved with the snow cone stand six years ago, he worked out a collaboration with the Stephanie Younger Group (SYG) where they supply storage for SYG’s water bottles, and in exchange, the company provides all the ice for the snow cone stand. The ice is the largest expense for the Widmers, who can go through up to 600 pounds of the stuff, so this is a win-win for everyone.
“Stephanie plays such a big part in the parade,” said Cyndi. “We are so happy to have this collaboration.”
Wes also used his networking skills and natural business savvy for landing the family a commercial-grade snow cone machine, which has made a world of difference when it comes to serving up the frozen sweets quickly and keeping up with the line of excited patrons looking for a way to cool off. When Wes was in 8th grade, he helped Schoeppner Carnivals set up the rides for the Westchester Lutheran School’s annual carnival. He asked the Schoeppner representative if he could borrow their snow cone machine for the parade, and he said that Wes could have it as a thank you for helping at the event.
While vending is not allowed on the parade route, the Widmers say they are considered an unofficial part of the event.
“We are a tradition and an institution of the parade,” Tony explained. “We have an exemption from the chamber of commerce. We are considered an ‘unofficial float’.”
Tony has marched in every parade for as long as he can remember, but last year was the first time that he was able to watch the festivities from start to finish. He has driven his Harley down Loyola Blvd., marched with AYSO and DRALL, and even drove his race car one year in the parade. Tony raced professionally for almost a decade as the owner and driver of a NASCAR team sponsored by The Shack restaurants.
As a Westchester Lutheran School alum, he was also very involved with helping build the school’s award-winning floats when his sons were students there.
The Widmer family is looking forward to this year’s event, and hosting the snow cone stand once again for this year’s Fourth of July. They plan to continue keeping this tradition going as long as their kids will come back to make it happen. The “kids,” now young adults, still use the money for extra summer cash, but it is the experience of running the stand that keeps them involved. Cyndi and Tony are glad that this parade pop-up has taught their children the basics of business and allowed them to share important lessons with their sons, like the importance of community.
Aside from the snow cone stand, Cyndi’s favorite part of the parade is the feeling of neighborhood spirit.
“On parade day, everyone comes out and sits on their lawns,” Cyndi said. “Suddenly, Westchester feels very tiny. That is what I love about our community.”
Tony’s favorite part of the parade each year is the singing of the National Anthem and the police flyover. His only complaint? The parade is not long enough!
Story by Lydia Smith. Top photo by Marianne Pellin Photography.