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Grand Old Day Festival

By Lavender May 20, 2010

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Organizer David Regan Pushes for GLBT Inclusiveness

The tree-lined charm, quaint ice cream shops and boutiques, historic brick homes, and variety of storefronts makes St. Paul’s Grand Avenue a Minnesota sweet spot. It’s the home of a summer favorite: Grand Old Day. Somewhere between a compact version of the State Fair and a phat block party, it has grown into the largest one-day festival in the Midwest. Beer in hand, get ready to cheer the planning committee.

David Regan, Executive Director of the Grand Avenue Business Association (GABA), notes, “We’ve got premier businesses all the way down a three-mile stretch. Now, try closing all that down for Grand Old Day. It’s quite a task.”

On June 6, the event celebrates its 37th anniversary with 20 local bands on seven stages, an 8K inline skate/run/walk, an outdoor yoga class, a parade, a full art district, family-friendly activities, a petting zoo, appearances by local sports heroes—plus a cornucopia of other things to keep you entertained, but, let’s hope, not too sunburned.

All this craziness is produced by the very busy GABA, dedicated to preserving the historic avenue’s urban tradition, cool character, and community success.

As Regan explains, “And the coolest part: The whole event is a charitable fundraiser. I don’t think a lot of people realize that we partner with nine different charities, like the Minnesota AIDS Project, Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride, and Free Arts Minnesota. It’s not just a big fundraiser for the business association, but we give back.”

Regan is excited and totally pumped for another round of Grand Old Day. But his passion for the thriving 30 blocks of pavement goes beyond his business card. A transplant from Illinois, he moved to our state capital because of a relationship seven years ago. Grand Avenue was the first place he remembers seeing while driving into the city.

As Regan recalls “We pulled off the highway, and were looking for somewhere to stay. We ended up on Grand and Oxford. The neighborhood was so beautiful. I immediately said I wanted to live here. It was the charm of the neighborhood that brought us in.”

Regan started working at J. Crew on the Avenue, and soon after encouraged the store to join GABA. Fast forward a couple years, and he had become a part of the organization himself. Eventually, he took on his current position, running one of the largest business associations in the country.

As Regan enthuses, “I just love the sense of community Grand Avenue provides on all levels—the neighborhood who shops here and the businesses that come together.”

GABA currently has about 125 members, but expects to hit 175 by the end of the year, depending on who opens and closes its doors. Its goal is to provide marketing, public relations, and education to the businesses, fostering relationships, keeping people in contact, and exchanging ideas.

Regan states, “When you come together as an association, you have way more power than you would as a single business on your own.”

A daily snapshot of Regan’s role at the job is varied.

Regan likes to say he has a “hat rack that sits next to my desk. At any moment, I may take one off, or put one on. Maybe I’m ordering event supplies, talking with media partners, or interviewing with press for an event. It’s knowing that I can spin on a dime, and stay organized.”

Three years ago, Regan saw a need for change in Grand Old Day’s inclusiveness, and a clear place for the GLBT community to feel comfortable. He observes that the first 30-plus years of the festival were focused around beer and the bands on one side, and family activities on the other. Both remain important, of course, but an entire population of people was lacking representation.

Regan relates, “I would walk around the event, and there really wasn’t anything that spoke to the GLBT community specifically, so we asked Lavender to step in, and sponsor a stage, provide some entertainment. We just put some connections into the festival, while not saying, ‘Hey, look at us—we’re here.’ I just wanted us to feel part of the community, too.”

According to Reagan, he’s quite pleased that being an openly gay man at work has never been an issue. He happily has introduced his significant others to coworkers without a problem.

Regan remarks, “This is who I am, and when people have met who I’m with, there has never been an ‘Oh, my God, he’s gay.’ This is me, and if you have a problem with it, that’s your problem. I’m not going to take ownership of that.”

This year, Regan is looking forward to Walker Art Center’s open field drawing activity that invites the community to work together on an art project. He’s a fan as well of the Art Car parade and Art Scratch, the latter a recycled art project that turned former Grand Old Day buttons into sunflowers for kids during last summer’s festival.

Regan’s pride and joy is the first-ever Grand Old Day digital download, a diverse collection of tracks from bands playing this year’s stages.

As Regan shares, “It’s our first one, and it will be the perfect sampler for driving down by the lake this summer.”

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