The Orange Circle will transform into a culture hub this weekend for the return of the 50th annual Orange International Street Fair. The theme of this year’s fair is “Circle the World,” with a full array of various international food booths, arts and crafts and more.

The tradition of the street fair stems back to 1973, when the city of Orange was brainstorming ideas to commemorate its 100th anniversary. The street fair idea was inspired by the possible revival of the city’s one-time event in 1910, which was a success among all Orange County locals. 

Reflecting on the 1910 street fair, Mayor Jess Perez was inspired by a photograph of the event and the liveliness it brought to Orange, which led him to pitch the idea of bringing the event back with various organizations representing different nationalities. That first year back in 1973, the fair reeled in an estimated 50,000 attendees. Now, the fair draws up to 100,000 visitors per day. 

The Orange International Street Fair has remained a staple not just for residents of Orange, but hundreds of thousands of county locals. Popularity has only increased each year, with an average annual attendance of 400,000 visitors over the three-day period in recent years. According to 2006 OISF Inc. data, visitor attendance is consistent, with 25% of attendees being repeat visitors of the street fair. 

Orange International Street Fair, Inc. is a 501(c)(4) certified nonprofit founded in 1985, whose sole purpose is to execute the annual street fair. As a nonprofit organization, OISF, Inc. is completely separate and independent from the city of Orange. There is no financial or planning support from the city, and the corporation reimburses the city for all services. Because of this, sponsors are vital to the event’s performance and help ensure that the street fair can pay its dues to the city as well as its food booths and entertainers, run by other local nonprofits.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the street fair suffered from a significant drop in attendance last year, meaning incoming funds also dwindled, both experiencing a 28% drop, according to organizers.

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Adam Feliz, president of Orange International Street Fair, Inc., said the pandemic’s impact made resources tight for this year, making it hard to celebrate a significant milestone.

“We were not able to capitalize on our 50th this year, but our goal is to still have an event that will bring us back to pre-pandemic numbers,” Feliz said.

His hope is that this weekend’s fair will help bring the nonprofit back to a more stable position, so that the street fair can continue to entertain the community for another 50 years.

Compared to last year, however, this year’s street fair is already on the right track. All food booth slots are filled, along with a full lineup of arts and crafts vendors and several community and commercial booths.

This year’s OISF will feature 32 food booths (including alcohol sales) representing 15 nationalities: the United States, Asia, Australia, Denmark, France, England, Germany, Ginza, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Polynesia and Switzerland. Food booths will be selling various international staples, such as orange chicken egg rolls, Danish pastries, beignets, bratwurst, gyros and more. Feliz emphasized the effort put into selecting food vendors that offer both authenticity and modern fusion. 

The street fair also offers 54 arts and crafts booths, with local artists selling all sorts of handmade items, from jewelry to clothes to home decor. There are around 45 commercial and community booths in the mix as well, with local organizations showcasing the causes they support and companies promoting their businesses with guests.

Orange International Street Fair

Where: Plaza Park, 134 S. Glassell St., Orange

When: 5-10 p.m. Sept. 2; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 3 and 4 

Cost: Free admission, $4 wristbands for alcohol

All food, alcohol and community booths at the fair are run by local nonprofit organizations, which is true to OISF’s mission. A few include Orange Hills Church (beignets), Orange High School Baseball (cold beer), Orange Blossoms Assistance League of Orange (beer) and more. Feliz expresses gratitude to his board and committee for always striving to put on the best event that will not only entertain the surrounding community, but will also benefit all participating local nonprofits. All arts and crafts booths are run by artists local to Orange County.

“Each year we look for opportunities to reduce vendor participation fees as well as provide the best platform for these nonprofits to reach the community,” Feliz said.

Entertainment is plentiful at this year’s street fair, with eight stages of entertainment throughout the plaza, and music coming from original artists, cover bands and ethnic groups. Each musical stage at the fair represents a different nationality, including American, German, Greek, Irish, Mexican, Polynesian and a separate children’s stage.

Local group Power Serge is thrilled to be playing for what is its third year on the main stage at OISF. The glam hair-metal cover band is composed of six members all hailing from Orange, meaning they all grew up attending the street fair themselves. In 2014, they were shut down by the fire marshal for having too many people in the crowd at the street fair.

Sean Henry, a member of the group, said this was one of the best nights of their lives, making them excited to come back again. Henry said there are many things that make the group want to come back and play the OISF, despite the fact that they don’t get paid at all.

Glam metal cover band, Power Serge, returns to the Orange International Street Fair main stage this year. Credit: Photo courtesy of Power Serge

“It’s the traditions, great food, supporting local business, schools and charities, and getting to see people you used to see all the time when you were younger,” Henry said.

The fair offers such a broad spectrum of food, but there are a few that keep local visitors coming back each year. Henry’s personal favorites are the loukoumades (greek doughnuts), gyros, tacos and of course, Bud Light. 

Julie Hatcher, a resident of Orange, has been going to the fair since she first moved here in 1990. Her plan this year is to arrive early to make a straight beeline to all her favorite eats.

“We, of course, always have our favorite foods which are the lamb gyros and the teriyaki beef sticks,” Hatcher said.

Wristbands are required for alcohol consumption and will be available for purchase at four entrances throughout the fair for $4. All alcohol sales will end at 9 p.m. each night.

The Orange International Street Fair will run tonight through Sunday and admission is free for all. For full music lineups and lists of vendors, visit the OISF website.

Crystal Henriquez is a contributing for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at crystalh774@gmail.com.

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