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August 1, 2013

Sidewalk Bazaar's buzz is back on Main Street

Starting this morning at 9 a.m., tables, not cars, will be parked up and down Gloucester’s Main Street.

They belong to vendors, says John Orlando, this year’s coordinator of the downtown Sidewalk Bazaar, “140 of them at last count.”

“And that’s not including the last minute entries that are still signing on,” he added.

It’s the 55th year for the “big buzz of the bazaar,” and Orlando, the son of a fishing captain, thinks he may have been there for all 55. “Although I was too young to remember the first few,” says Orlando, who’s on the younger end of the boomer spectrum.

Boomers were babies back in 1959. That summer, Ike was president, Norman Rockwell was painting small town New England life onto the covers of the Saturday Evening Post, and Gloucester’s Main Street merchants were figuring out a whole new way to get out of their un-airconditioned shops and sell off their leftover summer inventory.

And so, a string of picnic tables appeared along Main Street piled high with bargain merchandise, and the “big buzz” was born.

Back then, recalls Orlando, it all really was as spontaneous as a summer picnic — no permits, no planning, no fees, no fuss. Today, permits are a prerequisite for just about everything, and everything is one long laborious year in the planning.

That includes soliciting fees from participating vendors, most of which go toward advertising and promotional efforts. Recently, those have come to include every bell, whistle and tweet in the Social Media arsenal — and that, not surprisingly, has attracted a younger demographic consumer group, with plenty of expendable income.

For them, says Orlando, the bazaar’s growing multi-culturism has become a big draw. Though not exactly as exotic as a middle-eastern souk, the Sidewalk Bazaar has come to include some fairly exotic merchandise, with booths displaying plenty of global street fashions, crafts, jewelry, and “things you won’t find at your garden variety mall,” says Orlando.

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