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Summer Street Fairs: sometimes just a pain?

A sign of the summer approaching is when you start to see event listings of street fairs or other al fresca fetes occuring on a more regular basis.  Among my favorites in Portland include the Mississippi Street Fair and the Hawthorne Street Fair.  With the advent of Portland's Sunday Parkways, now in its fifth year (wahoo!), some street fairs coincide with the neighborhood's street closure to corroborate the energy and excitement of a street fair coupled with a Sunday Parkway route.

In our new neighborhoods in the East Bay Area, one way we've been started to get to know our new environs is to spend some time at some of our local street fairs.  In the past month, we've gone to the East Bay Bike Coalition's Happy Hour (a street party in Old Oakland celebrating Bike to Work Day), the 12th Annual Park Street Spring Festival (right in our own Alameda's downtown), and First Friday at Jack London Square (a collection of performances, food vendors, artisans, pop-up boutiques on the waterfront, an event that coincides with Oakland's First Friday Art Murmur).

What I love about street fairs is seeing the people in my neighborhood, other families, shop owners, performers, food purveyors.  I love to support craft producers; I love to mingle with others in a dense, closed-off area, let the kids do a little exploring on their own.  The energy is real: other people in the crowd welcome meeting and making a new friend; there is an air of community spirit and comaraderie.  

There are, however, some trends in our street fair experiences that I do not enjoy.  Perhaps it takes us a while to mobilize, leave the house, and make it out to said street fair.  Once there, kids and adults alike might be irritatingly hungry.  Perhaps I haven't packed enough snack food to hold us over to find a proper meal or to wait the long lines at the food vendors.  The food vendor selection might not offer something everyone might want, and there might be complaints as a result.  There may or may not be easily accessible restrooms for our toddler who - when he has to pee - HAS TO GO right then and there.  Perhaps there are just too many people, that results in taking forever to make decisions on what to eat, what booth to visit, or where to situate.  There might be no water fountain in plain sight to refill the water bottles we emptied on the hot bike ride over.  The sun might be going down and suddenly our tank tops leave us shivering with goosebumps on our arms.

Street fairs are a summer right of passage, they are a beacon of the warm days to come, they are a sign of the long days of sunlight that are here.  We all love them.  But: do some of us hate them, too?


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Is this an attempt at satire? It sounds like http://first-world-problems.com/

I totally get it... all events are fun but have that other aspect due to crowds, etc. It's like going to an amusement park and knowing you will have to wait in lines... sometimes you do it anyway, and you know certain things are going to be part of it. I try to keep things lowkey and hope that gets us through... and not worry if we don't make it out if no one is up for it.

The "street fairs" in Portland - at least the one on Belmont, which is where we live - have zero appeal for me. I consider them big, outdoor shopping malls with some live music. There is nothing to do but buy stuff, whether it's food, face-painting or whatever. Or walk around watching other people buy stuff.

We just spent Saturday at the Starlight Parade which has got to be one of the most difficult events to attend in Portland. My mother and cousins camped out for our spot most of the day, I had to make an extra trip to bring chairs, had to spend money every time someone needed to use the bathroom (no porta potties?), and we got trapped in a back-up in the parking garage for an hour getting us home past midnight. But for all the chaos, going to the parade is a tradition our family loves. We get to know our "neighbors" on the sidewalk, our kids have spontaneous games with kids they would otherwise not meet, and we get to smile and clap for a few hours. But if parades aren't your thing, the day/night would have felt like torture.

@anon - Hee!! And great, snarky site!

Returning to street fairs: I hate them. It's a bunch of local shops putting their crappiest stuff out on tables and for some reason this is meant to get me all excited? And I'm going to plan my weekend around going to visit shops I either A) go to anyway or B) have zero interest in going to just because they're outside, someone's selling hot dogs and someone else is playing guitar and singing?

It's the same way the Farmers' Market bores me silly because, as my daughter put it, "why didn't we just go to the gocery store?".

We prefer to really enjoy the natural wonders and great summer weather by waterfall hiking and doing actual fun stuff (even fruit picking is fun). Which is why, again, we need a real theme park/water park---so we don't have to persuade ourselves that this is a family activity.

We avoid them. We avoid farmer's markets too. In fact, we rarely go somewhere that is going to involve crowds, opting instead to hit the outdoors in nature.

Ok, so I haven't gone to a street fair recently, but they used to have outside booths, not just the rgular street businesses. Like other food and craft vendors, informational booths about neighborhood orgs, charitites, events, things you wouldn't kow about unless someone did outreach in person like that... we also are not into crowds, but 'outdoors' can have the bigest crowds of al! EVery time we hike, major peoples.

I love the Alberta Street Fair and Art Fair. I always run into people I know, the stuff is usually pretty nice and interesting to look at, and there are definitely some interesting people to people watch there. It's not my neighborhood but my friend's. We go every year. I usually blow a ton of money I don't have, just like the first time I visited Portland from Texas 14 years ago and blew all my grad-school spending money at the Saturday market because it was so mystifying! I can't think of anything I hate, except for the first time I went and didn't bring sun screen and got burned?

I don't hate street fairs, but like them in moderation and when our family has nothing else going on.

I do think that as the street fairs have grown more popular that the quality of the vendor/artisan/art has actually suffered, at least compared to my first Alberta Street Fair some years ago. Just my observations anyway. I agree that there does tend to be a focus on buying (and often not great quality products, or something I can make myself for cheaper.)

Ways we try to ensure a good street fair experience:
- everyone has to use the bathroom before going!
- parents decide in advance if we are a) eating at home b) eating dinner there c) getting snack there d) splurging for dessert treat. This way we are ALL on same page if our daughter starts whining, begging, etc. Whatever our decision is we clearly communicate the options to her.
- we keep expectations low-key about how far we will walk (our daughter is 4 and no way we want to navigate her Strider bike in those crowds!), that we don't expect to get to check out every table, musician, etc.
- Water bottle & hoodies/light jacket are must for evening events; sunscreened up if daytime
- We never make plans to meet up with friends. Some street fairs are just too congested and it's too hard to spot people, or set times, so if another family wants to "meet up" we just say, "Maybe we'll see you there but it will likely be tricky; have fun guys!"
- We all love music so we allow for time to catch at least one singer/band/stage performance, as that is the big hightlight of street fairs for us (my daughter *really* loves to dance, especially)

Yeah, I agree, this is a first world problem.

But, to answer the question, my husband and I tend to avoid things with the kids with lots of crowds. My kids like to roam, and it is too stressful to try to keep track of them in a crowd. I also agree with some posters that some fairs can feel like glorified outdoor malls. I might like it, but who wants to shop with kids? Not me! If I were with a girlfriend, maybe.

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Ok, so I haven't gone to a street fair recently, but they used to have outside booths, not just the rgular street businesses. Like other food and craft vendors, informational booths about neighborhood orgs, charitites, events, things you wouldn't kow about unless someone did outreach in person like that... we also are not into crowds, but 'outdoors' can have the bigest crowds of al! EVery time we hike, major peoples.

Blair done a couple of "dress you up" features and also posts her outfits, makeup purchases, thrifting, etc. Good stuff. Also very thoughtful about feminism.

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