Filed Under Events

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.

Audio

Street Fair Changes Carole Close talks about the changes in the Coventry Street Fair (and its creators' lives) as time went on. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
What Are You Going to Do About It? Larry Beam of the Coventry Neighbors Association talks about an incident that occurred because of the thousands of people drinking at the fair. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Shut It Down Larry Beam of the Coventry Neighbors Association talks about the decision to stop the street fairs. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Crowds at the Street Fair, 1980 The first street fair of 1974 was small, resembling more of a sidewalk sale, and attracted approximately 20,000 people. By the mid 1980s, the number in attendance had grown to about 100,000. Bruce Hennes, past president of Coventry Neighbors, had said that "the best feeling I used to get in the whole year was when I'd stand on top of the hill near the library and look out at 80,000 people crammed together, having a good time." Creator: Joe Polevoi
Hippies and Rock 'n' Roll, 1974 Bill Jones Leather Shop on Coventry was largely responsible for drawing the large crowd of hippies to the area. The first decade of street fairs catered largely to this crowd. Musical performers usually were of the Rock and Roll genre. Creator: Joe Polevoi
Performers at the Fair, 1977 Performers at the Coventry Street Fairs, such as these fire-eaters, were volunteers. Interestingly, people familiar to Coventry usually knew the people behind the painted faces. Creator: Joe Polevoi
Fair Activities, 1977 While mock knight battles drew large crowds and were fun for the participants, one of the main criticisms of the fairs in the 1980s was the lack of activities designed for and offered to younger children. Creator: Joe Polevoi
Fair Merchants, 1974 The Coventry Street Fairs were started as a way to draw new crowds to Coventry Village, and also to remind people who had not visited the area for a while what they were missing. Eventually, outside vendors were invited to the fair, replacing local merchants and the community atmosphere. The business pictured here is now the location of the Houde School of Acting. Creator: Joe Polevoi
Coventry Street Fair Map, 1986 This map not only shows where entertainment took place during the Coventry Street Fair, but also how Coventry has changed in in the last twenty-six years. Trapezoid and High Tide/Rock Bottom are no longer in the three block district, while businesses like Passport to Peru and The Inn on Coventry are still a part of Coventry Village. Source: City of Cleveland Heights
Juneteenth on Coventry The community enjoyed the opportunity to gather for the second annual Juneteenth events on Coventry in 2022. Source: Coventry Village Special Improvement District Creator: Odin Blak Date: June 19, 2022
2022 Street Festival Poster The inaugural Coventry Street Festival was intended to build on a series of popular community events held on the street in recent summers, including sidewalk sales and Final Fridays programs. Although the festival is not a resumption of the old Coventry Street Fair, it draws some of its inspiration from that legacy. Source: Coventry Village Special Improvement District Creator: Chris Dant in collaboration with Zygote Press Date: 2022

Location

Metadata

Heidi Fearing, “Coventry Street Fair,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 9, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/434.