Vineyard Haven’s Main Street becomes a carnival this evening

Tisbury selectmen Cora Medeiros, the late Manny Maciel, and the late Craig Kingsbury rode in style in the 4th of July parade in the early 1970s. The question remains: did Mr. Kingsbury wear shoes when he went to Edgartown? — Photo courtesy of Cora Medeiros

Back in 1971, Tisbury celebrated 300 years of history with a parade and its first street fair.

Now the fair has its own history and will celebrate its 40th edition this evening, July 9, between 6:30-9:30 pm. The fair had been scheduled for July 8, but it was been shifted to the rain date, according to Ken Goldberg of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Goldberg announced the news in an email to The Times Friday morning.

Cora Medeiros, a feisty and often controversial Tisbury selectman at the time, hatched the street fair idea with friends Shirley Frisch, a county commissioner, Joan Montamet, and Darlene Pacheco.

Ms. Medeiros celebrated her 81st birthday last week, and she’s still feisty. She’s not been a selectman for some time now, but she’s been busy on the 40th street fair and has planned some special treats for Tisbury’s signature summer event.

The annual celebration draws 5,000 to 6,000 people who stroll Main Street from the Mansion House to the Green Room, browsing merchants’ wares arrayed on sidewalk tables and knoshing on a banquet of comfort food from restaurants and nonprofits who have come to regard the event as an effective and useful way to raise funds and awareness.

“The first year we probably had 30 participants,” Ms. Medeiros said last Saturday in an interview at her Tisbury kitchen table. “Now there’s up to 120 participants, including about two dozen organizations.”

Ms. Medeiros’s drive is regarded as the principal reason for the longevity of the event. “She ran it like the pope of Rome,” one long-time Main Street merchant said with a chuckle. “Whatever Cora said was dogma and people followed it.”

Curiously, the town has not designated the street fair as an official town holiday, though it’s been officially recognized as a town celebration since 1994.

“They should name it a holiday,” Ms. Medeieros said. “Half the town doesn’t even know what we’re celebrating, and it’s really the only town-wide event we have. And we could save $400 to $500 in cleanup costs if it was an official town holiday.”

Proceeds from booth rentals initially went into town coffers, but soon they were directed to town police and fire department benevolent associations in alternating years. “I’d guess it’s raised $100,000 over the years for their scholarships and programs,” Ms. Medeiros said. Generally in the $3,000 range, proceeds will go to the firefighters fund this year.

While the parade was not begun as an official town event, Tisbury’s selectmen figured prominently in the fair’s inception 40 years ago. “Craig Kingsbury and I dressed up in period costumes and rode in a buggy driven by Manny Maciel in the Edgartown Fourth of July parade,” Ms. Medieros said. “A group of town kids carried a banner promoting the first Tisbury street fair a few days later. Craig even wore shoes.” Mr. Kingsbury, a legendary town figure, was normally unshod, summer and winter.

Ms. Medeiros and her compatriots used Island events like The Edgartown parade to promote town needs. “We had a float with a guy [Edward Morrison] dressed in long red underwear sitting on a toilet when we were trying to get the sewer system installed,” she said.

She’s been busy this 2011 anniversary year, wheedling and gathering gifts and treats for kids. Through her business, Neptune’s Sea Chest in Vineyard Haven, Ms. Medeiros somehow found a bunch of five-foot ride-on lobsters which will be raffled at the fair.

“We’ve got little American flags from the Department of Public Works,” she said. “The firefighters have donated little red fire hats, and the police association is donating badges and stickers. Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank is providing bank kites, and Humphreys Bakery and I are providing donut holes.”

The kids’ goodies will be distributed from a Tisbury fire truck at the intersection of Union and Main streets.

Robin Sylvia, the event’s current organizer, took a minute from her planning on Saturday to discuss the street fair. “Cora may be retired, but she really wanted to do a celebration for this anniversary,” she said.

Still, booth reservations have been slow this year, according to Ms. Sylvia, “We have a lot of promises and we’ll probably see a lot of last-minute sign-ups,” she said.

“We have many kids’ activities, including pony rides, a climbing wall, face-painting, and balloon animals,” Ms. Sylvia said. “The dunking booth is run by Vineyard Hockey, and we’ll have to see who the dunkees are.” And there will be a gauntlet of gustatory options — from hot dogs and burgers to chowder and sausages, along with desserts galore.

Ms. Sylvia noted that the event generally begins before the announced 6:30 pm, when Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish begin jamming on the end of the street across from The Mansion House.

Participating organizations include Tisbury Waterways, Connect to End Violence, Vineyard House, Methodist church, Vineyard Youth Hockey, Tisbury Ambulance Service, M.V. Faith Church, St. Augustine’s Church, M.V. Helping Homeless Animals (generally with a menagerie in tow), M.V. Arena (with a dunking pool this year), WVVY 93.7 Community Radio, First Baptist Church, the Rotary Club, The Harley Riders, the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging, Camp Jabberwocky, Habitat for Humanity, M.V. Skate Park, the Girl Scouts, the Apostolic Prayer Church, the Oak Bluffs Firefighters, and the Tisbury Council on Aging.

Free parking is available at the Tisbury School and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Free VTA shuttle bus service will be provided between the high school and the street fair throughout the event.