Street fest will mark
its 50th year in 2023

After a three-year hiatus, Grand Old Day will return on June 4 to once again herald the beginning of summer in Saint Paul. More than two dozen Grand Avenue Business Association (GABA) members celebrated the announcement at the business group’s annual meeting on January 19.

“It’s exciting to be back,” said Brian Wagner, who is cochairing the street festival this year with Chris Jensen, another member of the GABA board.

Grand Old Day
Sheila Garland spun partner Anthony Kaczor as they tripped the light fantastic in front of one of the music stages during the 45th annual Grand Old Day in 2018. Photo by Brad Stauffer

More volunteers are needed

“We are excited about the return of Grand Old Day,” Jensen said. He recalled attending Grand Old Day as a child with his family. However, he and Wagner emphasized that the festival cannot happen without the support of the community. A core group of about a dozen people are working on the event, but more are needed. Volunteers do not have to be Grand Avenue business owners or employees to help out.

Grand Old Day almost did not happen in 2019. GABA had canceled the event on April 23 of that year for a lack of funds and volunteers. But when a group called Grand Old Day Anyway rallied to get some kind of event going, GABA regrouped and was able to raise the necessary funds and pull a festival together for the first Sunday in June.

COVID scuttled festival in 2020-22

The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the festival in 2020, ’21 and ’22. Lack of time for planning and rising security costs were other factors. But for the three years it was not held, Grand Old Day 2023 would be the 50th annual.

Planning and fundraising for the festival are well underway. Organizers in 2019 were able to raise more than $72,000 in five weeks. Wagner said that with more time, organizers are confident they can raise that amount and more in 2023. Their goal is to have $100,000 in hand by early February.

Grand Old Day organizers received the support of the Macalester-Groveland Com­munity Council for a city block party permit earlier in January. The Summit Hill Association will act on the request in February.

 

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Security costs loom large

One big challenge will be paying for security. The Saint Paul Police Department has raised its festival security costs in recent years. Parade security is another huge need with the risk of motorists bypassing barricades and hitting parade participants and spectators. Police costs last year sidelined the White Bear Avenue Parade, and they were a factor in the demise of the venerable Rice Street Festival.

Grand Old Day security costs have risen from about $40,000 in 2019 to $125,000 for 2023. Wagner said talks are underway with the Saint Paul City Council and Mayor Melvin Carter’s office to see if that amount can be reduced.

Parade, live music, car show will be among the attractions

Along with the parade, several other events will return. One is the two-mile run, which will start in the Mac Market area and end at Dale Street. Live music, beer gardens, a battle of the teenage bands, a children’s area, an art fair, car show and community service fair are also being planned. Organizers are also looking at ways to assist small businesses who would like to take advantage of the crowds.

Grand Old Day organizers are hoping to offer a wider variety of live music. “We’ve heard from many people wanting that,” Wagner said. An LGBT Pride Stage is in the works. June is Pride Month, Wagner said, and Saint Paul does not have any kind of celebration. GABA is also working with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department on several featured events, including pickleball and giant cornhole or beanbag tossing tournaments.

GABA is hard-pressed for support

Jensen is president of Axia Home Loans at 1272 Grand Ave. Wagner is a real estate agent with the local office of Coldwell Banker Burnet. They are hoping GABA realizes some financial benefit from the event. Any revenue raised will help the business association with member outreach, Grand Avenue beautification and other business association needs, they said.

GABA no longer has its own staff or office, so the business association has looked to the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce for organizational support. The Chamber has helped GABA with a strategic plan and staffing needs. The organizers still need volunteers and sponsors. For more information, visit grandave.com.

— Jane McClure

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