Traffic cones will be replaced by food carts and music stages on Willy this weekend, much to the relief of the area's retailers.
Falling leaves and a crisp, September wind means autumn is here, and with its arrival this weekend comes the annual Willy Street Fair and Monroe Street Festival, two of Madison's most celebrated block parties.
Beginning in 1977 as a one-day, one-block fundraiser to support Common Wealth Development and Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, the Willy Street Fair has since grown in scope and popularity, expanding to two days and three blocks. Offering an array of activities including food vendors, crafts, raffles and performances from local artists, the festival will also feature seven stages for musical acts and a Sunday morning parade, making it the city's largest block party.
For many businesses, the festival will be a welcome change of scenery, as extensive construction to the area has riddled the street with traffic cones and uneven dirt roads, making if difficult for commuters to stop in to see their favorite bartenders and baristas.
"We've seen a drop in business since the construction began," says Corey Gresen, one of the owners of Plan B nightclub. "So we"re hoping that people will come to the festival, see that construction is almost done and hopefully start coming down again."
Construction aside, all businesses and their employees are excited to celebrate alongside customers, continuing to foster the sense of community that is unique to the Willy Street area.
"The festival emanates the positivity I find in this area in general," says Neil Jarman, an employee at Madison Sourdough Company Bakery and longtime fan of the fair. "It personifies it, and I think that's what makes it really special."
While relatively newer and smaller in scale, the Monroe Street Festival offers its own unique take on the autumn neighborhood bash. Between college fair entertainment such as UW-Madison's internationally-known a cappella group MadHatters and the popular annual book fair taking place at the Monroe Street Library, the day's events are designed to appeal to all ages.
Also worthy of note is the recent opening of Hotel Red, the luxury boutique hotel at the corner of Regent and Monroe, which will be offering free tours during the festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"Because we're relatively new, it's the first time for a lot of the people in the neighborhood to come through, which is important to us," says Jason IIstrup, general manager of Hotel Red. "We want to make them a part of the hotel and make this a neighborhood place."
The Monroe Street Festival is on Saturday and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Willy Street Fair begins on Saturday, Sept. 17 and runs from 1:45 p.m. until 9 p.m., resuming Sunday from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.