"Barracks Row Street Fair, Sunday, June 5. Up, Up and Away!" read the banner flying high over the corner of 8th and G Streets SE. Under the banner, a wicker gondola - the kind normally attached to huge, hot-air balloons - sat with dozens of smaller, helium-filled balloons attached to it.
"There was too much wind to have a hot-air balloon in such a tight space," said Russ Parkinson, who was selling the small balloons. None of his many customers seemed disappointed, least of all 7-month-old Corinna Hill. Her father, Jefferson Hill of 504 A St. SE, tied a balloon around her ankle and she kicked at it happily as she was wheeled around the fair in her carriage.
Pushing carriages, riding bicycles, carrying babies in backpacks, several thousand people thronged the 700 block of 8th Street, next to the Marine Barracks, on Sunday. The event, which featured about a hundred vendors, a variety of food and entertainment and an auction, netted about $2,500 for the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.
The fair, organized by the Barracks Row Merchants Assn., served as an unofficial unveiling of the new face of 8th Street. Less than two years ago, a string of unsavory bars and boarded-up stores lined the street. Today, the spruced-up row features a tile import shop, several antique stores, a pottery studio, a poodle-clipping establishment, a shop specializing in brass beds and an indoor flea market.
Many of the flea market regulars set up tables at the fair, selling their their depression-glass decanters, old political campaign buttons, and vintage Mad magazines. At other tables, buyers and browsers inspected dead butterflies arranged in bell jars with dried flowers, Shaklee cosmetics and food supplements - "a total consciousness program for the body inside and out" - and pottery "brought up from Mexico as fast as our 55 mile an hour speed limit will allow."
Food offerings were also varied. Marine volunteers hawked hot dogs and cold beer. A Mexican-American family sold burritos, tamales and tacos. Jerry Dryer of the Gandy Dancer restaurant put grenadine, pineapple juice, strawberries, bananas, oranges, watermelon and ice in a blender and sold the resulting drink for $1. There were also Tennessee hush puppies, Italian subs and curried goat dinners, West Indian style.
While fair-goers sat on the curb, feeding themselves, their children and their dogs, the Marine Corps Dixieland Band played "Muskrat Ramble" and "Basin Street Blues" on a stage consisting of two flatbed trucks.
When the Marines stepped down, Capitol Hill Arts Workshop performers took over the stage and did scenes from "Free to Be You and Me," a musical the group often performs for children throughout the Washington area. When they finished, children from the audience joined the performers in a large circle and all pretended to be kangeroos, airplanes then motorcycles.
"We're on a canoe trip," yelled arts workshop director Sally Crowell, and everyone paddled furiously. As if on cue, the rain, which has been only spattering, came down full force.Most of the fairgoers took refuge in the shops, but the show went on.
"We've got a lot of goodies here," said WRC-TV newsman Jim Vance, who auctioned off 20 items donated by the local merchants.