The forecast for the 24th annual Williston Park Street Fair is for a mild, partly sunny day and a convivial atmosphere that should draw crowds for the food, the music, the carnival rides, the Corvette show and a sense of community.
“The street fair was the original Facebook,” said Bobby Shannon, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Willistons.
This year’s fair will feature an expanded exhibition of vintage Chevy Corvettes and an expansive version of the fair itself, which will extend along Hillside Avenue from the intersection at Willis Avenue to the Long Island Rail Road tracks. It’s a slightly longer promenade for those who come to browse the booths and - in many cases - bump into old acquaintances.
“It’s a huge event for those who moved away,” said Shannon, who said many former residents make a point of making a pilgrimage to the fair each year.
With the chamber, the American Legion, the Rotary of Williston Park, the Williston Park Library, the Williston Park Civic Association and the Williston Park and East Williston Fire Departments all having a presence at the event, the fair aims to bring the disparate elements of the community together for an annual community observance of mutual appreciation.
“So many parts of the neighborhood come together to put this fair on,” Shannon said.
Seeking participation from local merchants at the fair is never an issue, according to Shannon, who said it works the other way around, with merchants seeking the opportunity to set up booths without having to be invited.
“For a business that’s interested in staying in business in the neighborhood, it’s your ability to put your business in the face of your clients and your potential clients and smile,” Shannon said. “We don’t canvass at all. They just come to us.”
In fact, Shannon said all the available space at the fair was taken last year, and the same thing recurred this year - only a few weeks earlier.
As president of Mineola-based Reality Roofing, Shannon said he doesn’t have a booth at the fair so that he can sell people new roofs. Having a presence at the fair for him is all about making face-to-face contact with customers he’s dealt with in the past and those he has yet to meet.
“The street fair opens the channel of communication between me as the businessman in the community and the people. They see us there year after year, so they know we’re going to be around and this develops trust,” Shannon said.
Contact with people at the street fair also has another indirect benefit for businesses that give away items with their company name or logo. Those items have a shelf life and may well prompt a friendly recollection and a phone call some time about a service or a product in the future.
In his experience, Shannon spends too much time catching up with old customers and old friends to be able to do anything else.
“We go there with the attitude that we’re there to make contact. We can’t do business,” he said.