Recently I came across the news that Chicago’s Old St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church is no longer hosting its World’s Largest Block Party. The 35-year-old, two-day festival of music and food drew thousands of people to the business district where Old St. Patrick’s Church is located.
The pastor, the Rev. Tom Hurley, says that the “summer event environment in Chicago is more competitive than it was 35 years ago and more difficult for the 175-year-old church to navigate.”
I have always had mixed feelings about the art and trade fairs that pop up like mushrooms in Chicago and its suburbs, in fact all over the country, every summer. On one side, I am proud of the tradition and the cultural heritage they offer to their audience,but on the other hand I am frustrated by the overwhelming corporate presence in them. They all look the same and they have lost the local flavor they carried in the past. Around twenty years back, each fair was different than the others, and it represented the neighborhood merchants and artists.
I very well remember that the Halsted Street Market Days started as a way for the local businessmen to attract people to the neighborhood by displaying their goods on the pavements outside their shops.The local businessmen organized and participated in the fair. Another example is the Taylor Street (Little Italy) fair which really had a feel of the neighborhood. Retro on Roscoe has nothing retro anymore, other than some old cars parked in a lot. Now, these fairs are controlled by various corporate bodies like fast-food chains that end up creating the same milieu in their restaurants, except for a change in the décor here or a change in the plan of the restaurant there.
Another aspect of this corporate control is the entrance fee. They use ambiguous language on the tickets to tell the visitors that the fee is not mandatory, but the area is blocked completely, and the fee is more than strongly encouraged. We should not be asked to pay to walk on the streets of our city. I guess a lawyer knows the implications of this better than I, but I find it unreasonable, at the least.
I wish we could get back to the good old fairs that were organized by the local merchants and artists.These local stakeholders were invested in their neighborhoods which benefited from them, instead of some entity that is coming from outside and whose priority is to make as much money as possible from the participants and the visitors.