There were more smiles than umbrellas, as occasional raindrops failed to dampen spirits at the inaugural Avenue for All festival on Saturday.
The festival was a coming-out party of sorts for Parsons Avenue, and the South Side, as local businesses and organizations celebrated the area’s redevelopment.
“The weather could be better, but it’s still a great event,” said the Rev. John Edgar, executive director of Community Development for All People and founding pastor of the United Methodist Church for All People.
“The whole idea is to create ‘third places’ to bring people together from both sides of the avenue,” Edgar said, using a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to refer to anchors of community life.
“It really is a nice mix of people,” Edgar said, looking around at children blowing bubbles on a closed section of Parsons Avenue between Whittier Street and Deshler Avenue. “As of today, once and for all, this is where everyone meets. This day has been long coming, but it was well worth the effort.”
The 25 businesses and more than 30 organizations participating in the street festival focused on “showing that we’re building a sustainable, mixed community on the South Side,” said Mike Premo, one of the organizers of the event.
The idea for “a big old party” came during a meeting hosted by the Columbus Foundation, Premo said. “As new houses and new businesses rebuild the South Side, we thought it was a great idea,” to emphasize that the street is “a place for everyone, no matter our age, political affiliation, race, religion or economic background.
“Parsons Avenue historically was a dividing line between very different communities,” Premo said. “Now it’s becoming a focal point for a welcoming and inclusive neighborhood.”
The inclusiveness of the neighborhood was what drew Eric Obenauf to the area.
“We live on the South Side now,” said Obenauf, who, with his wife, owns Two Dollar Radio, the book publisher, indie bookstore and cafe that was one of the businesses participating in the festival.
“Before, we lived up in Clintonville,” Obenauf said. “We were looking at different spots to open a storefront, but a lot of other neighborhoods are driven more by developers than by the community. The South Side is very proud and mindful of its history, and is focused on ensuring people aren’t priced out. Our experience has been tremendous.”
Among those enjoying the slightly soggy fun at the festival were Paula Priest, a 20-year resident of the South Side, and friend Andy Morano, who recently started a new job at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“I think it’s a nice idea,” Priest said. “It’s nice to see the way (the street) is coming along.”
“Parsons is changing so much,” Morano said. “It’s really an up-and-coming neighborhood. (The festival) is a great idea.”
Another longtime resident, Charlotte Williams, kept an eye on her great-nephew and great-niece as the small fry scampered past the play area and gathered treats from some of the volunteer booths.
“I think it’s great that the neighborhood is lifting up,” Williams said. “It helps with attitudes and changes for the better. I think it’s great. And they got lots of goodies.”