Bloomfest has blossomed.
What began as a spontaneous wake for a lost neighborhood activist has now grown into a multi-block street fair and concert honoring volunteerism. It also continues what the late Joel Bloom was known for: introducing strangers to the Arts District and giving a reason for locals to gather at Traction and Hewitt.
Moments after Bloom passed away in July 2007 after a long bout with cancer, neighbors gathered in front of his general store to comfort each other. During the week, visitors dropped by (including Huell Howser) to pay respects to the neighborhood pioneer who used a booming elocution to voice a point of view.
Later that month, during Bloom's memorial held on Traction, plans to hold a street fair in his honor began, and in the next few years, hundreds came to the Arts District for an annual street festival featuring art and music.
"It's all about Joel Bloom, volunteerism, and the creative force that pervades the community," said Jonathan Jerald, who himself moved to the district in 1994 and, with others, has been active with community issues.
Just as this year's street fair got underway Saturday, Jerald estimated 5,000 would attend.
The number came closer to 15,000 attendees wandering Traction, Hewitt, and East 3rd to explore craft and retails booths, local cafes, selected food trucks, and listen to an afternoon and evening concert with a full slate of indie bands. There is no doubt the boost in this year's crowd came from a re-focused festival run by volunteers who spent time forming stronger ties with outside vendors and media.
Yet, when word first got out how on the direction of BloomfestLA 2011, long time locals groused that the event was losing its purpose. Co-organizer Melissa Richardson Banks made a simple challenge: Do something about it.
Out came artifacts and neighborhood landmarks, some that were hidden away since Bloom's shuttered in 2009. The collection became part of an art exhibition on the street fronting the general store--which reopened that same day with a new name and owner.
And while the rest of Los Angeles roamed the Arts District, long time locals met with former locals to linger on the corner of Traction and Hewitt to catch up.
Joel first opened Bloom's General Store in 1994 and it grew into being the neighborhood's town hall, explained Councilmember Jan Perry, whose office spearheads another street festival that thrives on neighborhood identity, the Central Avenue Jazz Festival (July 30 and 31). "The best part of visiting the Arts District was to go to Bloom's General Store and have him cuss you out," said Perry with a laugh. "No one did it like Joel. He was a great guy, plain spoken and community-minded."
It was Perry who make arrangements for the block to be declared Joel Bloom Square, and the councilwoman was able to present Bloom with a replica of the sign a few weeks before he passed away.
"To see how he left a mark and these people here love him so much, and remember what he did the community," said Joel's brother, Michael, who was with a Chicago and Florida contingent of family members, "It touches my heart."
Later in the evening, while the bands rocked on the stage a short block away, the locals who knew Joel posed in front of his former store, next to the wooden Indian that mysteriously reappeared for the one-day festival.
Once again, for the sake of Bloom, the tribe gathered on this corner in Los Angeles.