Street fairs a first step in revitalizing historic downtown

KINGMAN ­ With a shopping bag dangling from one arm, newly arrived area resident Priscilla Rhoden walked early Saturday afternoon with friends through historic downtown, a shopping district she described as "a jewel in the rough."

"I think it needs a lot of help, but it's on its way," the former California resident said. "Downtowns are so important to a city. It's a shame to let one go to waste. I've seen it happen in other places I've lived." Rhoden was one of thousands of antique lovers, junk-food fanatics and people-watchers that converged on the southwestern corner of the city Saturday to enjoy the Historic Beale Street Fair. Along the sidewalks, downtown retailers displayed their wares on folding tables as a jazz trio costumed in old-fashioned riverboat garb walked the street, providing a toe-tapping musical score to the open-air market.

The fair is one of many attractions being devised by the ever-tightening community of downtown merchants to transform the humble strip of knick-knack shops and antique stores on Beale Street into a recognized shopping destination. On Saturday, participating retailers appeared to be cashing in as they hustled to satisfy the appetite for antiques of those in attendance.

"We're doing great," reported Dana Matteson, owner of Auntie's Attic, located at 424 E. Beale St. "I love the street fair. I think we should have them all the time ­ at least every other month."

Across the street from Auntie's Attic, Mary Wise, owner of Time Was Antiques and organizer of the sidewalk sale, worked feverishly to manage the mob of shoppers parading in front of her store. Items for sale included unique glassware, rare books, dolls and shimmering porcelain plates and figurines.

"It's been a steady stream of folks," she said. "A lot of people are saying they like it and we should do it more often."

"It's been a lot of fun," she added. "We should do it more often."

Area resident and antique hound Joanne Erdman certainly thinks so. Asked when the retailers of historic downtown should again organize a street fair, she answered, "Next week would be fine." In the past, she said she only occasionally shopped downtown.

"It's lovely," she said of Saturday's fair. "It's the variety that makes it that way. There are so many interesting things."

Anna Banana's New & Used owner Larry Hutchinson wore his warm, familiar smile Saturday afternoon as he stood on the sidewalk in front of his store, welcoming passers-by into the menagerie of collectibles he operates with his wife, Hilea.

"I don't think we've had any grumpy people in here at all today," he said. "It's a beautiful day."