Thursday, October 6, 2022

Fest in the First draws crowds to Miller’s Lake Street

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Foot-tapping music, art, games, food and a healthy dose of fellowship marked the 19th Fest in the First Saturday in the heart of Miller’s downtown district in Gary.

“They’re coming in waves,” said coordinator Jessica Renslow. “We’ve got good weather and they’ve handed out more than 1,000 bingo cards.”

The Miller Spotlight’s Education Youth & Child Programming Action Group teamed up with the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District and the Re-imagine Gary group to host the street fest on Lake Street. The event is a celebration of Gary’s First District neighborhoods including Emerson, Aetna, Glen Ryan and Miller on the city’s east side.

Festgoers packed the Nelson Algren 616 Sound Stage and swayed to the Fabulous Kings blues tunes while a short distance away, a deejay hosted a dance party on a parking lot.

Nearby, Jada Harrison, 9, took a horseback ride around a parking lot and struggled with her dismount.

“It was OK,” she said as her twin brother, Jordan, easily mounted the horse. Both kids are in fourth grade at Charter School of the Dunes.

Renslow said it marked the first year IlIn Entertainment, of Gary, provided the horseback rides for the fest.

Henrita Walker puts out some of her creations at her booth during the 19th annual Fest in the First, celebrating Gary’s First District neighborhoods of Emerson, Aetna, Glen Ryan and Miller. Lake Street in Miller was closed Saturday afternoon for the festivities, including music, horse rides, business bingo, bounce, food, and much more. (John Smierciak / Post Tribune) (John Smierciak / Post-Tribune)

Gary Mayor Jerome Prince couldn’t walk for long without a constituent greeting him.

“The highlight for me is the people,” said Prince. He said some offered complaints and others, praise.

Prince, who said he’s lived in different parts of the city, lives in Miller now with wife Deanna who accompanied him Saturday.

Cammie Christopher celebrated her first street fest as a new shop owner. Her resale shop, Revival a Go-Go, filled with curated vintage furniture and wares, opened earlier this month at 544 S. Lake St.

She said she’s been in the resale business in Pilsen, a Chicago neighborhood, for about 10 years and came to Miller when a friend bought a house by Lake Michigan.

Children play in the bounce house during the 19th annual Fest in the First, celebrating Gary’s First District neighborhoods of Emerson, Aetna, Glen Ryan and Miller. Lake Street was closed in Miller Saturday afternoon for the festivities, including music, horse rides, business bingo, bounce house, food, and much more. (John Smierciak / Post Tribune) (John Smierciak / Post-Tribune)

She and her husband purchased the building she said dates back to 1909 and once served as the community library. “Diana of the Dunes checked out books here,” she said.

For now, her store has limited hours — from 5 to 8 p.m. on Fridays. She plans to offer regular hours in November.

Near Christopher’s shop, Henrita Walker set up her abstract acrylic paintings and handmade keychains.

“This is called fluid art,” she said referring to the technique of applying colors in a liquid state to canvas as they run across it.

“I layer it in a cup and pour it on the canvas,” she said.

Gary Mayor Jerome A. Prince (right) visits with residents during the 19th annual Fest in the First, celebrating Gary’s First District neighborhoods of Emerson, Aetna, Glen Ryan and Miller. Lake Street in Miller was closed Saturday afternoon for the festivities, including music, horse rides, business bingo, bounce house, food, and much more.(John Smierciak / Post Tribune) (John Smierciak / Post-Tribune)

Chuck Hughes, president and CEO of the Gary Chamber of Commerce, said he’s impressed by what the Miller business community provides and much of what it does becomes a template for other areas of the city, he said.

“We try to use this as a catalyst,” said Hughes who forecasted more growth for the city. “We’re getting more inquiries from outside businesses about locating here,” he said.

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

Kimberly Watson (center) shares her food with her children, Kora Watson 2, (left) and Makari Watson 7, (right) during the 19th annual Fest in the First, celebrating Gary’s First District neighborhoods of Emerson, Aetna, Glen Ryan and Miller. Lake Street in Miller was closed Saturday afternoon for the festivities, including music, horse rides, business bingo, bounce house, food, and much more. (John Smierciak / Post Tribune) (John Smierciak / Post-Tribune)

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