Thursday, June 27, 2002

Street festival

West side set to party all day long

        West-side stereotypes take a hit when Tony Lange takes a walk.

        Tradition-bound inaction yields to burning ambition. A dream becomes reality with Saturday's Westfest 2002, a street festival of music, food and fund-raisers.

        Last summer, Tony attended a meeting of the Cheviot-Westwood Business Association. Sitting with his fellow members, he heard the bad news.

        The group's annual summer picnic was a flop. Poor attendance. Piddling revenues. Meant to raise funds for a college scholarship given to a student who's given something back to the community, the picnic lost money.

        After the meeting, Tony took a walk along the deserted streets of Cheviot. Night had fallen on the little west-side city of, by last count, 9,015 citizens.

        That night, Tony had the sidewalks to himself and his dreams.

        The association, he reasoned, needed a new scholarship fund-raiser. The solution, he told himself, was a street festival. Done just right.

        “Nothing rinky-dink.”

        He envisioned closing Cheviot's main drag and staging a taste-of-the-west-side street festival at the intersection of Harrison and Glenmore avenues.

        “I could just see the people,” he said. “I could hear the rides, the kids laughing, music playing.

        “I could smell the food.”

        Tony will experience those sensations for real 11 a.m. Saturday when Westfest 2002 kicks off its 12-hour inaugural run.

        A dream will be realized that day: For west-siders weary of their stick-in-the-mud image — and for Tony, who's expecting a crowd of 20,000 festival-goers.

Company's coming

        Twenty thousand people? Deep in the heart of Cheviot? On a Saturday? In the summer?

        Is he crazy?

        “I've lost track of how many times I've been asked that,” Tony said with a smile. We sat in his office, a converted garage where he publishes the WestSider entertainment magazine.

        Tony knows why his sanity is questioned. It's because of the stereotypes attached to people clinging to lifestyles as tightly as their houses cling to the hillsides of western Hamilton County.

        “The west side has always been considered conservative, resistant to change,” Tony noted.

        Easy for him to say. The 34-year-old has solid west-side credentials. Lives in Cheviot. Attended classes at Westwood, St. Catharine, Midway and Elder.

        Tony also knows those so-called conservatives have a flair for adventure. And fun.

        That flair is very deep-seated. But it surfaces at street festivals.

        Tony's been to “the tastes of Blue Ash, Colerain and Cincinnati.” At these events, he's seen other west-siders — after their passports have been stamped.

        He's convinced they will support Westfest 2002.

        “Just approach them in the right manner with a well-thought-out plan,” he said. And they will come.

        “They won't be afraid to spend their money,” he added. “They just want a good return on their investment.”

Change is good

        To that end, Westfest features 75 booths, 27 food vendors, amusement rides, a crafts tent, car show, two stages and 20 acts. All for a good cause.

        “Nobody's making money on this,” Tony said. “Proceeds go back to the community in the form of the scholarship.”

        He's already being asked about Westfest 2003. The general consensus wants a two-day event next year.

        Tony has it covered. When he took his late-night walk last summer, the laughter, the aromas and the crowds he imagined weren't just for one day. They ran an entire weekend, creating memories that could last forever.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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