Northalsted Market Days

Northalsted Market Days (August 9, 2012)

What started as a way to highlight a neighborhood's liberal, artsy atmosphere 30 years ago has turned into one of the city's biggest street festivals.

Northalsted Market Days, taking place Saturday and Sunday, celebrates three decades this year. Organizers expect a crowd of more than 100,000 to converge on Halsted Street, ground zero for the fest that features three stages and more than 40 musical acts, food and arts and crafts vendors.

Mickey Hornick, owner of Chicago Diner in the Halsted business district, has been part of the fest since the beginning. When Market Days began, he said the neighborhood just wanted to show off its "liberal" and "artsy" side.

"We got together, me and the other businesses in the area, and thought we should promote the neighborhood for its cleanliness, art, music and safety," he said.

The collaboration gave birth to Northalstead Market Days.

Now, Hornick said the festival has evolved to reflect the progress of the city's culture.

"The festival has always been a major force for gay rights," Hornick said. "It's a peaceful fair where for two days people can come out and just be themselves."

But things weren't always as peaceful. In the '80s, a police officer was accused of being homophobic after brutally arresting a festival-goer for spraying a water gun into his cruisr. The incident resulted in riots on Halsted Street.

"Rather than canceling the fair going forward, Mayor Harold Washington and other politicians created a commission and decided to close the street off from traffic for the fair," he said. "The politicians enabled it to grow and give it a chance, turning something negative into a positive.

Hornick is pleased that the fair has become a staple for the neighborhood, and he expects it to remain that way for many years despite the hurdles faced by the current sluggish economy.

"There's a great group of hardworking people who put this together, and it's really helped the community," he said. "This street fair is kind of at the core of this neighborhood."

For information on this year's Northalsted Market Days, visit www.chicagoevents.com.