Beginning Friday afternoon, Myrtle Avenue transforms from a bustling street of shoppers to a festive community of vendors, art enthusiasts, movie goers, and families looking for new and exquisite food to try.
The Monrovia street fair gives local businesses the chance to thrive during harsh economic periods, and eating for up and coming entrepreneurs ready to showcase their businesses.
In 1995, the City of Monrovia held its first street fair on grounds of Myrtle Avenue, a lengthy street packed with shops, restaurants, and a historic movie theater. Twenty-three years later, that historic movie theater, along with other various establishments, were either sold or forced to close due in part by nationwide economic dips, increasing rent and the struggle to compete with online sellers. The vendors of the Monrovia Street Fair, on the other hand, endure.
Many small businesses prosper during these Friday nights in Monrovia. Some have been selling here for over a decade. Dolce Monachelli’s Gourmet Specialties, a Fullerton based family business concentrating in gourmet bun cakes, has served at the Monrovia Street Fair for 13 years.
“We are one of the longest term vendors here, actually,” said owner Chris Monachelli. “We make the best cakes in the world. It all started with my grandma’s recipe: Italian butter rum cake.”
Monachelli goes to about 30 farmers markets a week across Southern California, and maintains that the Monrovia Street Fair has the largest customer turn out.
“There’s a lot of good food vendors and then there’s a lot of good sweet vendors; we cover that pretty well,” he said, chuckling.
The staple businesses of the Monrovia Street Fair that support its authenticity as a farmers market are the locally grown fresh fruit and gardening vendors.
A general rule by the vendors of the Monrovia Street Fair is that the use of pesticides and genetically modified plants are not acceptable for commercial purposes. Seven year-long vendor Isaac Torres, creator of Torres Gardening, runs a tent lined with copious amounts of plants and vegetables, ranging from minuscule succulents to commonplace lavenders.
“They’re natural seeds, non-GMO,” said Torres.
Torres has been selling at farmers markets for seven years, but all of the plants that he had on display were initially planted 12 years ago.
“I collected those (seeds) years ago. All those herbs.” Torres said that he always receives a heap of activity from tourists who are interested in his diverse arrangement of flora.
Vendors involved with agriculture share similar obstacles pertaining to environmental changes and how that may impact their production. Local beekeepers Klaus Koepfli and Erika WainDecker, founders of Klausesbees, have been in the honey business since 1968. For five decades, its proven to have been a stable business for the pair. More recently, scientists have observed a combined loss of 33.2 percent of U.S. honey bee colonies from April 2016 to March 2017.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” WainDecker said. “We stopped the pollination about six to eight years ago. Too much of a die off, too much chemicals going around. So now we’re totally concentrated on the honey.”
Another honey vendor, Kevin Heydman of Bare Bees Honey, commented on the issue.
“We re-queen, we do splits, we do removals, so we’re able to grow,” Heydman said. “We grow every year, we don’t decline. We do lose hives, but we’re able to replace them. Any problems that we have, we bounce back.”
That’s not to say that starting a business doesn’t come with its challenges. Pink Donut, which bakes small, customizable donuts that come with different flavors and toppings, began selling at the Monrovia Street Fair in early August of 2018.
“I have to tell you, starting business on the street is not easy,” said Neal Pan, co-founder of Pink Donut. “I thought it was just going to be putting up tents, but you have to go through all the processes.”
From following the Health Department’s requirements to accepting the guidelines of the Monrovia Street Fair management, it took Pan four months until he and his wife could start vending.
One of the newest vendors at the Monrovia Street Fair is Lorena Alvarez, showcasing her business Glam Threads Boutique. Alvarez sells handmade jewelry, which includes chokers, necklaces, long-chain necklaces, and bracelets. Made with vibrant crystals, gemstones, and leather, Alvarez noted that her clients appreciate her merchandise and make sure to regularly visit her booth for updated jewelry.
“I have my own customers that come back to see me,” Alvarez said. “A lot of them are really nice, really friendly.”
If there is one thing that all street vendors appreciate, it is the people.
Don and Suzie Jackson have visited the fair for eight years and counting. Whether it be for a bite to eat or for a cool drink, the couple is delighted to see families getting off of their technology for one night a week to enjoy this active social gathering.
“It gets them out of the house, and away from the screens,” Jackson observed.
Jackson had a point. There were too many interesting events going on for people to become distracted by their smartphones. From a man performing classics on his piano in the center of the street to a band jamming out on their guitars, the Friday night entertainment is limitless.
David White, along with his wife Kate and son Maxwell, are regular attendees of the Monrovia Street Fair.
“We come over once a month,” David mentioned. “We like to come and get something to eat, and just kind of wander around.” As their son began aweing over the festival’s attractions, Kate smiled and remarked, “He likes the bouncy houses.”
There are plenty of fun activities for children to partake in – bouncy houses included. A rock climbing wall stands tall amongst a line of families eager to climb it again. To the side sits a petting zoo, filled with small animals waiting to be cherished; it remains a popular attraction for young street fair attendees. Nearby, children were given the chance to ride ponies.
As the evening lingered on, families came and went, carrying with them the notion that everyone deserves a chance to enjoy the delights of the Monrovia Street Fair.
“Well, what I have to say is, if you have a dream, just go for it,” Pan said. “My dream was to become an executive chef at the hotel I’m still working in. My lady wants to have a store one day.”
As is the case for many local vendors, the aspiration of growing their businesses until someday it becomes a household name remains a top priority, and the practicality of the Monrovia Street Fair may just help them get there.