By Joann Mackenzie
---- — 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.
For an even younger consumer subset —aka; kids— there’s face painting, balloon sculpting, snakes, clowns, jugglers, henna tattoos, music, dancing in the streets, and a miniature railroad, roaming the length of the bazaar.
From the intersection of Pleasant and Duncan streets to the t-junction at Washington Street, that stretch of Main street will, for the next three days, from 9 a.m to 5 p.m., teem with an estimated 5,000 shoppers daily. For serious bargain hunters, says Orlando, the bazaar has become an annual safari; and the “thrill of the bill” isn’t the only thing that keeps them coming back.
“There’s something for everyone,” he says. When he was a kid working summers on his father’s boat, that something was for him “Joe Popcorn Slush.” He’d swap his sea legs for land legs and hit the ground running up and down Main Street with the rest of the kids slurping their slushies.
‘Joe Popcorn Slush’ has, says Orlando, grown into a Gloucester summer icon over the years, and today it’s run by Joe’s daughter, Gina Ciarametaro.
For all that’s changed about the bazaar, he says, much of its traditions remain the same, and Main Street merchants are still the driving force behind making the magic happen.
Monetarily, that magic has trickle down benefits that go well beyond Main Street. For Orlando, who nowadays owns and manages Gloucester’s Harborview Inn, those benefits come —as they do for other inn and hotel keepers— in the form of midweek bookings.
The Sidewalk Bazaar, he says, is an economic hero. But it wouldn’t, he adds, be possible without a lot of other heroes, including the police who “somehow manage to keep traffic flowing,” and the “DPW teams who swoop in nightly to do their thing.”
By 8 p.m. each night, says Orlando, “you wouldn’t known a thing had gone on on Main Street.”
Let alone, the big buzz of the Sidewalk Bazaar.
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3457, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.