Coventry Street Fair
Those who reminisce about the Coventry Street Fair often recall an uncountable crowd interspersed with local business owners and outside vendors selling unique merchandise, clowns, magicians, fire eaters, musicians, and, most of all, fun. However, organizers of the fair have quite a different memory of the annual event. The Coventry Street Fair began in 1974 as an effort by Coventry merchants to draw new people to their shops. They were also eager to disprove rumors that the presence of the Hell's Angels, who frequented Coventry Village, made the area an unsafe place to visit. Unfortunately, it was not bikers but rather the fair's attendees that caused the summer events to be perceived as dangerous, both to people's safety and to the familial atmosphere the fair's organizers sought to promote.
The first decade of fairs were both run and enjoyed by the hippie generation. The City of Cleveland Heights gave permission for Coventry Street to be shut down between Euclid Boulevard and Mayfield Road, and what began as a sidewalk sale essentially turned into a carnival. As the years progressed, so did the size and cost of the fairs. More food vendors, merchants, and entertainers delighted the crowds that became increasingly rowdy.
Although the fairs became larger and more popular, the atmosphere of the fairs began to diverge from the original intent of its organizers and Coventry residents. According to the Coventry Village News, "Values of peace, love and tie-dye [had] been replaced with values of family, community pride, and homeownership." Furthermore, outside vendors had been brought in to help pay the tens of thousands of dollars it cost to run the fair. This destroyed the main objective of the fair, which was to promote Coventry Village businesses.
All of these issues coalesced in 1985 when Coventry Neighbors, Inc., (CNI), the group who organized the fairs, questioned whether to continue the eleven-year tradition. The street fairs continued for another year, until 1986, after which it was decided that the City of Cleveland Heights would no longer close down the street to accommodate the event. The fairs were revived eighteen years later and ran smoothly for several years. Then things changed. In 2011, a flash mob disrupted the fair, casting new doubt on the event's future. Because of concerns that similar incidents would occur, organizers decided against subsequent fairs.
But the story did not end there. Indeed, the spirit of those years has reappeared in new forms, bringing together those with and without memory of the street fair. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coventry Village Special Improvement District began sponsoring Final Fridays, a name that reflected these events' being on the last Friday of each month. Then in 2021 the street hosted its first Juneteenth celebration, whose popularity led to its return in 2022, along with what might become a new tradition: the Coventry Street Festival. While the Coventry Street Fair is no more, its legacy lives on in a new generation of gatherings that enliven this meeting place in the Heights.