C ommunity of can-do partiers comes together for festival
By Lara Donnelly
Belly dancers, hand-turned pottery, food trucks that run the gamut from Cajun to Vietnamese … not many Ohio street festivals offer all of this, plus hundreds of other excitements. But Yellow Springs is not like many other Ohio towns. In fact, the village of 4,000 has built its reputation on being a unique place where artists, musicians and activists practice and thrive. Its biannual street festival, Street Fair, is no less unique or diverse.
“It’s just so Yellow Springs,” said Karen Wintrow, executive director of the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t know that you’ll find belly dancers at any other community festival.”
Street Fair represents the hard work of hundreds of villagers who vend from booths and wagons or open their instrument cases on the sidewalk. Strolling down Xenia Avenue, fairgoers will see dozens of street musicians playing banjos, bouzoukis, drums and more. Non-profits share the pavement with crafters and kids’ lemonade stands. Bring comfortable shoes and come hungry, because Street Fair covers more than three blocks of the downtown and it is packed with things to taste, see, hear and buy.
But Street Fair wasn’t always the bustling festival it is today. It has evolved and grown in the more-than-forty years since its humble beginning.
Jo Dunphy, a longtime resident with deep family roots in the village, was one of the founding business owners who got that first Street Fair up and running. It started out as a small sidewalk sale for local entrepreneurs, organized by the now-defunct BOYS, Business Organization of Yellow Springs.
“My husband and I took chalk and marked out some spots on Xenia Avenue,” she said. “It was a success for people who were here and selling. As each year went on, it just kept growing and growing.”
Now, Dunphy Real Estate sits proudly at the heart of the madness on Street Fair day, at the junction of Short Street and Xenia Avenue, and Dunphy marvels at the event her modest sidewalk sale has become.
“It used to be one block,” she said. “Now it’s the whole town. People park out beyond Young’s Dairy and take a shuttle into town.”
Dunphy said that through the years, Street Fair has not only grown and become more popular, but that people have begun to see Yellow Springs in a new light.
“Before, Yellow Springs was sort of different than everybody else, and now what we have is what everybody is striving for,” she said. “Now everybody wants to live here and be able to walk downtown, to use their bicycles.”
She said she thinks Street Fair may have helped people’s perceptions of Yellow Springs change from kooky little town to arts destination and weekend getaway.
“As they came here to the sidewalk sales, they’d speak to the people from Yellow Springs, they got to know merchants, they got to know people on the street,” she said. “They’d chat with people or come to the restaurants. People realized who we really are.”
Street Fair these days might be unrecognizable to the people who put it together back in the sixties, but it’s become a huge destination for visitors these days. The population of the village swells to more than triple on Street Fair day, and for many businesses, the two Saturdays in June and October are their best days for sales all year long.
“I always looked at Street Fair in October as the bloodline that gets merchants through the winter, and in June pushes them into the spring,” said Holly Simpson, the events coordinator at the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce.
It’s also a good proving ground for new businesses and emerging artists. Sales on Street Fair day can help an aspiring business owner decide if his or her idea is viable, and it can also provide a boost in cash flow and confidence. Several local street fair vendors have gone on to occupy storefronts in town.
One of these businesses is Asanda Imports, owned and operated by Molly Lunde and Lee Kibblewhite. Asanda sells Asian imports like jewelry, clothing accessories and gifts from a storefront in King’s Yard – a leafy, pedestrian commons in downtown Yellow Springs. But before they occupied their current location, Lunde and Kibblewhite were Street Fair vendors.
“It started with my stepfather,” said Lunde. “He took students to India with Antioch College, and he always did a booth of Indian goods he’d bring back with him.”
Lunde and Kibblewhite have both been traveling to Asia for many years. Lunde originally began vending at Street Fair to earn money for her annual plane ticket back to Asia, where she was studying yoga.
“I would always keep one bag for the plane ride home to stuff with goodies to sell,” she said.
One year, when she invested $1,000 in baskets from Bali and sent them home for her sister to market at Street Fair, she sold her entire stock. That was when she realized that maybe there was more to the business of imports than just earning plane fare.
“The street fair, from early on, gave me the idea of another way of working and making money than the more traditional way we’re encouraged to find,” she said.
In addition to Street Fair, Lunde began selling during the holiday season at Dayton’s Second Street Market. Then she and Kibblewhite rented a storefront in Yellow Springs part-time for the holidays and started setting up a booth on the street every summer weekend. Finally, they were offered the space in King’s Yard, where they have been since 2008.
They still operate outdoors for Street Fair. “We won’t give up the booth,” said Lunde. “We get a different crowd of people. It’s a great way to encourage people to visit the store during non-Street Fair time. And it’s nice to be in on the action.”
Other businesses, long-established in the community, have used Street Fair as an opportunity to open their doors and let their wares out into the sun. Peach’s Grill, for instance, sponsors and helps to operate the Chamber of Commerce’s beer garden and music festival on the lawn of the John Bryan Community Center. After a long day of strolling the streets, visitors can relax and drink microbrew while they enjoy local music.
Peach’s has been running the beer garden since 2008, providing a venue for area bands to rock out. This year, musicians playing at the festival will include the Carl Schumacher Band, Jeannie Ulrich and the Devil’s Backbone, Soul Rebels, Jah Soul and Speaking Suns. There will be about ten different beers to choose from, like Shock Top wheat beer, Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest, and the ever-present, ever-popular Yuengling and Budweiser.
“We felt that since we had a music stage it would be a nice idea to add drinks to the destination,” said Christine Beard, co-owner of Peach’s. “Its always nice to sit on the lawn and have a good beer and listen to good music.”
The beer garden opens at noon and will stay open until 7 p.m., several hours after Street Fair officially ends at 5 p.m. If partiers still aren’t ready to go home, they can stroll from the Bryan Center to Peach’s Grill and catch the music festival headliner there again from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., with more craft brew and good company.
“It’s all about having a good time,” said Beard.
Dino’s Cappuccinos, a Yellow Springs institution, also moves some of their business outdoors for the day, though they don’t go far. Dino’s is a cozy café on Xenia Avenue, squeezed between the bank and the Senior Center. The purple awning is like a beacon for caffeine-seekers, but with the Street Fair crowds, the inside of the coffee shop can get a little crowded.
Luckily, during the festival the baristas move outside, serving hot cider and coffee drinks to passersby. Dino’s is known for playing hopping tunes, and they bring their speakers outdoors too.
Sheila Dunphy, whose husband Dean Pallotta is the Dino of Dino’s, says that Street Fair days are their two busiest of the year, but that they are also two of the most enjoyable.
The baristas at Dino’s start setting up at 8 a.m. to get ready for the 9 a.m. festival start time. Sheila Dunphy said she hesitated to put a number on how many thirsty visitors they serve. But the fast pace of handing out libations isn’t so much frantic as it is fun.
“We have music. Everybody’s working and having a good time,” she said. “There’s camaraderie of working together, the music is loud. People are dancing outside.”
Dino’s has been out on the street for the festival for fifteen years now, and like Lunde, Sheila Dunphy said they have no plans to move back inside.
“It’s very exciting for us to see the crowds come in,” she said. “It’s such a diverse crowd. You have people coming in from in and out of town.”
That diversity, camaraderie and sense of fun are what Holly Simpson said make Street Fair such a special event. Before she was events coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce, Simpson was one of the baristas slinging hot cider in front of Dino’s. She has experience as an organizer and participant, and says it’s a wonderful day to be a part of, on both ends.
Simpson said that one of the best things about Street Fair is the community involvement. While some locals might gripe about crowds at their favorite downtown hangouts, Simpson said that seeing vendors, townies and visitors come together to pull off the festival proves that there is something very special about Street Fair.
“I don’t know if it would work as well in any other community as it does here, because here we’re all close,” she said. “It never ceases to amaze me how many people will come together to make it work.”
She described Street Fair as “organized chaos,” but said it with a smile, emphasizing that out of that chaos, amazing moments are born. Street musicians inhabiting the same block come together for impromptu jam sessions. Locals and out-of-town visitors bond over mutual love of food or art. Kids pull wagons through the crowd, calling out the prices for bottled water and home made muffins.
Everyone, said Simpson, is an entrepreneur on Street Fair day. The whole town is one big party, and everyone is invited.
“We’re good at entertaining,” she said. “We’re good at pooling our resources and making something out of nothing. And that’s why I love Yellow Springs.”
Street Fair will take place on Oct. 13 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Please, no pets. For more information about Yellow Springs Street Fair, visit www.yellowspringsohio.org/street_fair.shtml.
Reach DCP freelance writer Lara Donnelly at LaraDonnelly@daytoncitypaper.com