Steve Downard, president of Silver Lake Merchants Assn., said some shops in the fair zone will stay closed this weekend "because of bad experiences in the past regarding shoplifting and property abuse, such as breaking toilets." But he said that such problems are kept to a minimum and that the fair has become popular and profitable for other merchants, especially bars and restaurants.
Attendance at the fair grew from an estimated 50,000 in 1980 to 250,000 last year, its organizers say. Police estimates put last year's figure at 150,000, and some officers wondered whether public hysteria and fear of homosexuals in the wake of the AIDS epidemic might hold down attendance this year, even though the disease cannot be transmitted through casual contact.
Increasing numbers of heterosexuals and families have participated over the years. Although late-night events still attract a homosexual majority, about three-fourths of daytime visitors are not homosexual, said Richard Martinez, another coordinator.
The fair has become respectable enough that its opening ceremony at noon Saturday is scheduled to have a parade of elected officials, including Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles), Los Angeles Councilman Michael Woo, who represents the area, and Los Angeles Councilman Joel Wachs. Mayor Tom Bradley is expected to visit later in the day.
"The efforts of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance have had a tangible effect on reducing tensions between the gay and Hispanic communities," Woo said. "It's been a fascinating process in evolution" to see the fair grow "from an upstart in the community to where it has become an institution," he said.
Avoiding Flashier Areas
Many people involved with the fair say they live in Silver Lake to avoid the flashier, more status-conscious life styles of West Hollywood and the Westside.
"There are a lot of old hippies, people who still had ideals and who did not move here to knock other people out or live in a gay ghetto," said Rafter.
Megan Mills, another fair organizer, said the fair "gives me a sense of encouragement and hope about the future of activism."
As an outgrowth of the fair, Mills is planning to compile a reference book of community services and agencies in the Silver Lake-Echo Park area. Forty such groups have rented tables at the fair, along with about 100 booths of ethnic foods, artisans, merchants and games.
There is no cost for admission to the fairgrounds, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Traffic down Sunset Boulevard will be rerouted along Fountain Avenue, Effie Street and Griffith Park Boulevard.
A variety of free entertainment will be offered on three stages, including folkloric dancers, magicians and comedians. There will be jazz, rock, mariachi, gospel and rap bands. Among the most unusual performers will be a drill team of handicapped people in wheelchairs and a group of transvestites who impersonate the singing trio the Supremes. The best-known of the entertainers on the program is singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, who is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Bates Avenue stage.