Grand Old Day, the unofficial start to summer in St. Paul, is officially back on.
The announcement at Billy’s on Grand restaurant came Thursday afternoon, just over a week since the Grand Avenue Business Association canceled the street festival that for more than 40 years has drawn hundreds of thousands to St. Paul’s Grand Avenue on the first Sunday in June.
Organizers last week said their fundraising couldn’t cover their costs. Within days, business owners and others announced a last-ditch effort to rescue Grand Old Day. On Thursday, the festival’s Facebook page announced its revival.
So far, organizers say they have raised $75,000 toward the cost of staging the festival, halfway to their goal, making them confident they can put on Grand Old Day on June 2.
“We’re taking a leap of faith,” said Bob Lawrence, vice president of the business association. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
“We did it, we did it!” said Aimee Hanson, owner of Spara Realty and a longtime Grand Old Day participant. “We’re so happy.”
Hanson credited Ashley LeMay and Andy Rodriguez, who came up with the idea of an alternative, scaled-back event, Grand Old Day Anyway. That effort ended up saving the festival, she said.
LeMay, whose family owns Tavern on Grand, was beaming.
“I don’t look at it as just for me,” she said. “I see it as for all of St. Paul.”
So, apparently, does St. Paul. Mayor Melvin Carter and Council Members Rebecca Noecker and Chris Tolbert were at Billy’s to share the news. Lawrence said the city has assured organizers that all necessary permits, some of which were canceled after the festival’s announcement last week, will be in place in time.
“It’s a wake-up call for all of us,” Carter said of the festival’s near demise. “I’m proud that people stepped up to the challenge.”
One of those people was Richard Herod III, owner of White Bear Mitsubishi. The car dealership has been a sponsor of the Grand Old Day parade since 2010, he said, and he has been involved with the parade for two decades. When Herod heard the festival was pulling the plug, he agreed to put up another $15,000 to keep that from happening.
“Grand Old Day is a city tradition to me. It’s all about community,” he said. “This is the kickoff of summer, and we can’t have summer without Grand Old Day.”
Dawn Huffman, owner of Grand Ole Creamery, said she was eight months pregnant when they opened the ice cream shop on Grand Old Day 35 years ago. Her voice filled with emotion as she thanked those who refused to let it die.
“It was really neat to see everybody pull together when they had to,” she said.
Rodriguez said organizers of the festival’s salvation were able to persuade a number of sponsors to increase their contributions this year. Work continues on attracting new sponsors, he said. Officials say they believe that beer garden sales and other related revenue will put them over the top.
“We think we’re in a comfortable place,” he said.