Our Towns

Street Fair Is Must-Go Event in Columbiana

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COLUMBIANA, Ohio – The Columbiana Street Fair of today is very different than the first one in 1885. One hundred thirty-one years have passed but its importance to Columbiana has only increased.

For the small city, says fair director Jacob Sevek, everyone who’s lived in the community circles those three dates on the calendar every year – the Thursday, Friday and Saturday after Labor Day.

“It’s a great event for the community and helps spotlight Columbiana, but it also serves as a city reunion,” he says. “Families, class reunions and vacations are scheduled around the street fair because they know everyone they don’t see often will be there.”

In its first year, the fair was “a kind of sidewalk sale” for several businesses in downtown Columbiana, Sevek says. From the very beginning, contests and events were a core part of the happenings. The inaugural fair featured awards presented for largest pumpkin – William Bradshaw won a 58-piece tea set – and best half-bushel of tomatoes, for which R.C. Patterson won a $5 box of cigars in 1885.

In 1905, the name was changed to the H.H. Smith Pumpkin Show, but the spirit of the street fair continued. From then until 1937, when American Legion Post 290 began operating the street fair, events added to the schedule included bicycle races, wheelbarrow races, baseball games and hitching contests.

With the exception of 1943, when the American Legion post put off the fair because of the war effort, the Columbiana Street Fair has been held every year.

Today, the fair kicks off on the Thursday after Labor Day with a parade of fire trucks, Boy Scouts, antique cars and community organizations streaming down East Park Avenue and turning down Main Street.

Then the rides, games, entertainment and food booths are open to the thousands who show up over the four-day weekend. On Friday afternoon, the organizers invite to the fair all students with special needs who attend schools in Columbiana County.

“We try to encourage as many organizations and groups working with mental illness or limitations as we can to bring people,” Sevek says. “That way, they can enjoy everything there is to do here without the crowds that are here in the evening.”

In addition, the fair features a veterans’ memorial service and tribute display. Last year, the traveling Eyes of Freedom exhibit made a stop.

Despite receiving designation as a city 16 years ago, Columbiana is still a small town at heart, says Mayor Bryan Blakeman. That mentality is most evident at the street fair as friends and families plan outings and constantly run into people they know. Or so it seems, he says.

“While being a growing city, Columbiana still has a small-town feel and the street fair exemplifies the best of what we have to offer: family, food, entertainment, patriotism and memories. What more could you ask for?” the mayor asks. “In this day and age of smartphones and tablets, it’s a way to bring the community face to face with one another.”

Businesses also play a key role in the fair, Sevek notes. A 240-foot long tent features exhibitors that range from churches to jewelry makers to Boy Scout troops to home improvement stores. In addition to contributing to the prizes given away throughout the show, many merchants also help the legion over the weekend.

“They’ll jump in and do shifts with us,” Sevek says. “The legion is the sponsor and the ones who put it on, but we really strive to bring in as much of the community as we can, whether it’s a business or an individual.”

Many in town, he continues, react with emotion to what happens over those four days. Blakeman enjoys the opportunities it gives him to spend time with his family, especially taking his daughters to the attractions.

“I’d say that our street fair really is Americana at its finest,” he says.

Sevek adds, “For most of us, it’s the first fair we go to and has that nostalgic feel when you come home.”

Pictured: The Benjamin Firestone Post 290 of the American Legion marches at the 2015 Columbiana Street Fair.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.