Henry Taplin and Lauren Brown were visiting Chicago from Detroit this weekend when their CTA bus driver happened to mention that a fun new street festival was kicking off in the Loop.
The pair visited the blocked-off portion of State Street on Sunday and saw a performance by students from the Joffrey Ballet Academy and Community Engagement Extension before stopping by a food truck for their first bites of Harold’s Chicken.
For the first time since the pandemic hit Chicago, residents and visitors enjoyed traffic-free pavement on State between Madison and Lake streets. The free outdoor festival featured booths from vendors representing local restaurants and bars, small businesses and performers from throughout the city from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Chicago Loop Alliance’s new Sundays on State series aims to give local businesses the chance to connect with the community. For many it was the first opportunity to engage with customers in a relaxed, in-person environment since the pre-pandemic era.
Some attendees and most vendors wore masks, exemplifying the uncertainty that remains at this stage of the pandemic. As the vaccine rollout continues and variants spread, attendees took to the streets in whatever way they needed to feel safe while enjoying the music and social interaction, despite some light rain.
Activities during the first Sunday lineup included a show by the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance, which included free dance lessons for children in the audience, and free barre workouts and yoga classes were available at different locations throughout the day.
Retailers took to State Street to show off their products and, in many cases, offer steep discounts, raffles and free goodies to those who stopped by.
Jamie Ramirez, an employee of It’s Oksana, a West Loop textile shop focused on natural and sustainable linens and home goods, said it was an exciting experience to get out into the public as the city continues to reopen.
The staff at It’s Oksana has been seeking opportunities to further interact with Chicagoans in pop-up settings. The timing of the Sundays on State event was helpful as other pop-up events remain somewhat limited, Ramirez said.
Chicago Loop Alliance spokeswoman Jessica Cabe said one priority for the group was bringing the artistic feel the ACTIVATE pop-up celebrations launched by the Alliance in 2014, with the added twist of more distinctive and interactive experiences.
The alliance began planning for Sundays on State in the fall of 2020, and the plans were tentative early on as it was unclear how quickly the city’s vaccination rates would allow for reopening for large gatherings.
The entertainment also included laidback fun with hula hoop and hacky sack demonstrations, as well as a Freelance Wrestling performance and a show from the Chicago Chorus Girl Project.
Future Sundays on State events are planned for July 18 and 25; Aug. 8, 22 and 29, and Sept. 5 and 12. Those who register for the events at loopchicago.com/events can enter to win a $1,000 Loop Staycation packagel.