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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect health and safety protocols at the street fair.

The historic downtown district of Old Towne Orange was less hectic than usual last September, as festivities for the Orange International Street Fair were held virtually due to COVID-19. For Labor Day weekend 2021, the fair returns to the plaza and surrounding streets.

An annual event since 1973, the street fair originally was a way for the city of Orange to celebrate its centennial year. Mayor Jess Perez spearheaded the first fair, and it was organized by the city until the early 1980s when it became a sponsor and volunteer-driven undertaking (OISF, Inc. is a 501(c)(4) certified nonprofit founded in 1985).

Per operations director Brian Lochrie, “Our board collects fees on a linear foot basis from the vendors, arts and crafts booths, community booths and commercial booths, and along with the support of our sponsors, we use that money to pay for everything from police and fire to public works to portable toilets, temporary fencing and electrical services.”

In addition, a portion from the sale of wristbands (for ID verification which is required for those wanting to drink beer or wine) also goes toward covering costs. As a result, “The public can enjoy a wonderful fair that is free to attend. The nonprofits can make money through the sale of food and drink to help support their causes, and the Orange taxpayers are not footing the bill for this event,” Lochrie said.

Regarding COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Lochrie said, “We have signage at every entrance noting that masks are required for those who are unvaccinated. OISF also has masks and hand sanitizer available upon request at the information booth.”

Since the completion of Old Towne Orange’s five-level parking structure at 130 N. Lemon St. in February 2019, another 608 free parking spaces have been available to people driving in from other cities. Other features include six electric-vehicle charging ports and eight bicycle racks on the structure’s street level. 

Attendees within proximity of a train station may want to reduce their carbon footprint by taking Metrolink’s Inland Empire or Orange County lines to the Orange station, a short walk from the festivities.

Map showing locations of the different food “streets”, entertainment stages plus other details for the 2021 Orange International Street Fair. Credit: Graphic courtesy OISF, Inc.

Fourteen “streets” representing a diversity of ethnicities are located along East and West Chapman Avenue and North and South Glassell Street. Shawarma and falafel served by St. John Maron are available on Lebanese Street, while Vanguards Football Boosters will feature pork sliders on Polynesian Street. 

Looking for something different? Feast on mango sticky rice and Thai caramel chicken wings along Thailand Street from Orange Blossoms, an auxiliary of Assistance League of Orange. And for dessert, powdered beignets are being sold by Orange Hills Assembly on France Street. 

Former Old Towne Preservation Association (OTPA) president Sandy Quinn has been a resident for 21 years, and has witnessed the growth of the community event. “It’s evolved into a terrific and inviting buffet of entertainment, food, beverage, retail and public interest presentations,” Quinn said. “The income from OTPA’s involvement has enabled it to continue preserving and protecting the historic heritage of Old Towne.” 

Beer will be OTPA’s offering this year along Irish Street. If you’re planning to sip suds from OTPA or one of the other booths selling them, pours generally start happening around noon Saturday and Sunday, with a last call at 9 p.m. The overall vibe is more family-friendly earlier in the day. As the event carries into the evening, the street fair gets even more boisterous.

OTPA is not the only nonprofit to run a booth at the fair. Other groups include Orange North Rotary Club and Orange County American Italian Renaissance Foundation, with proceeds going back to the participating charities, volunteer groups and student organizations.

Dean Kim, Orange resident and owner of OC Baking Company, admitted his favorite OISF cuisine is funnel cake from All-American Street. “If you’ve never experienced the street fair, you have to at least once,” Kim said. 

An Old Towne Orange resident since 1997, Nancy Luna (a restaurant correspondent for Insider) has been attending the fair since she was a kid growing up in East Orange. Her advice is to pace yourself.

“Enjoying the evening with your friends at the Orange street fair is ultimately about community.”

Nancy Luna

Luna’s dining recommendations include eats off Mexico Street. “Get the quesadillas and tamales from the Apostolic Church of Orange. These tamales are almost as good as my mom’s. I love how they serve the homemade salsa in an old syrup jar.”

Residents wondering about the pedestrian-friendly Orange Plaza Paseo, which was built for outdoor dining this past year and utilized by numerous Old Towne restaurants, will be relieved to find out that it will return soon after OISF ends and will stay up until the end of 2021. According to Orange business and public affairs manager Paul Sitkoff, “The city council has directed city staff to initiate the process to perform an environmental review and provide design guidelines for a seasonal implementation of the Old Towne Orange Paseo.” 

More information on the Orange International Street Fair, including an entertainment schedule and details about Children’s Street (a designated section for younger attendees), can be found online

The street fair is open from 5-10 p.m. on Sept. 3, and from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on both Sept. 4 and 5. Entry is free and individual booths vary in pricing.

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at ampanoringan@voiceofoc.org.

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