The longest running street fair in D.C.’s history will return this Sunday—minus the street.
After the annual Adams Morgan Day festival faced an existential threat stemming from alleged misconduct by its sponsor organization, local residents and businesses in the neighborhood banded together to arrange a “grassroots celebration” along 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. Those streets will remain open to traffic, a significant departure from past Adams Morgan Days. Business owners say they’re not too worried about sidewalk crowding and are in fact happy that vendors like “meat-on-a-stick” stands won’t detract attention or customers from their storefronts.
“It’s interesting because literally the whole 11 years my shop has been open, I wish it had just highlighted the local businesses,” says Amsterdam Falafelshop founder Arianne Bennett. “I guess we won’t know how successful we’ve been until the day comes. It’s like Christmas or any holiday you’re waiting for: the anticipation, what am I going to get, what’s going to happen?”
A couple of months ago, organizers determined that getting a permit from the city to close down 18th Street NW would be too expensive, especially given the short time-frame they were working with once Adams Morgan Main Street—which had managed the festival since 2002—announced in late June that the event wouldn’t occur this year. (It did so on Facebook.) Additional costs like Metropolitan Police Department security, D.C. Department of Transportation water barriers, and Department of Public Works cleanup pushed the price tag for Adams Morgan Day into the tens of thousands of dollars. The street vendors were needed to help pay those bills.
“We didn’t have any funds,” says Jim Nixon, co-owner of Toro Mata, a purveyor of Peruvian goods. “We took a kick in the gut when the fair was taken away from us. It’s a matter of pride.”
Nixon adds that he expects a strong turnout this year, although he doubts the same number of people will attend without the closed-off street. He had joined Adams Morgan Main Street as treasurer in May 2014, but soon discovered that its president, Marc Morgan, was reluctant to disclose bank statements and other financial information. Morgan has denied charges of moving money between the organization’s account and his own, including a fund for a D.C. Council bid. (“He would have unbelievable explanations,” Nixon says. “Everything we did see just raised ten more red flags.”) Whistleblowers submitted the matter to the Justice Department last September.
Despite the air of neighborhood scandal, community members like A.Tianna Scozzaro wanted to see Adams Morgan Day continue into its 37th year. She’s volunteered outside of her day job at the Sierra Club over the summer to spearhead coordination of the 60-odd businesses and artists who will participate in this weekend’s event. The biggest challenge, she explains, has been getting the word out that Adams Morgan Day 2015 is indeed happening.
“I think we’re still looking for a long-term solution in terms of a nonprofit to host the festival in the coming years,” Scozzaro says. “Ultimately having a bit more organization moving forward.”
The celebration will officially take place from noon to 6 p.m. Local restaurants will provide food as well as space for artists, bands, and children’s activities. Amy Bowman, owner of the Black Squirrel and Libertine, says her restaurants are showcasing 19 bands, one every hour throughout the afternoon and evening. Along with Grand Central, the Black Squirrel has served as a meeting place for the event organizers. Artist Charlie Visconage will exhibit some of his work at the bar.
“There’s a little bit of both [excitement and worry],” Visconage says of Adams Morgan Day, his first selling art. “As far as attendance goes, it remains to be seen. There’s a good amount of foot traffic on 18th Street on any given day anyway, so it could really go either way. I’m optimistic.”
The organizers don’t seem to be anxious about overcrowding on the sidewalks or in their stores. Robert Turner, who’s voluntarily led communications for Adams Morgan Day 2015, explains that the MPD is aware of the event and will have several officers present. “When you think about what happens on Friday or Saturday night in Adams Morgan, we have hundreds of people on the sidewalk, the streets are open, and there are very few incidents. I don’t think it’s a big concern.”
Besides, the event is typically one of the best days for business in September. Bennett says Adams Morgan Day has only been rivaled by Crafty Bastards*, a fair of handmade goods, when it used to take place in the neighborhood (it’s now held at Union Market). “I think it’s actually our busiest day of the year,” she says. “There’s a residual trail for a few months after, in the sense that people come through and say, ‘I didn’t know that was there.’” This year, her eatery will host the recently reopened Capitol Hemp on its patio. (“Amsterdam!”)
In addition to Bowman’s restaurants, local bands will play at The Brass Knob, Roofers Union, Mellow Mushroom, Town Tavern, and SunTrust Plaza, which did require a permit to set a stage upon (Songbyrd Music House is organizing the acts). There will also be puppies and kittens: The Humane Society is hosting an adoption event in one of its trucks, outside of Tryst and the Diner. (You can view the full list of events, bands, artists, sponsors, and deals at the celebration’s new website.)
Anders Thueson, who organizes acts for Indie Adams Morgan, a collaboration of local artists, says the event this year will feature styles from folk to progressive rock. The celebration, he adds, has been “a valuable asset for the city” stretching back to the 1970s, when it had much more of a “bohemian feel.”
“I think the evolvement of the neighborhood, especially with the new streetscape, gave Adams Morgan a new breath, a new life,” Thueson says. “It’s just now being rediscovered, and this is a good opportunity for the neighborhood to enliven itself. The [mismanagement] controversy has really brought some of the businesses and community folks together that weren’t together prior.”
*Disclosure: Crafty Bastards is a City Paper event.
Photo by Ted Eytan via Flickr Creative Commons