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Roscoe Village Goes Retro

The eight blocks of Roscoe Street, between Damen and Oakley, make up the heart of the Roscoe Village neighborhood. The two-lane street sits comfortably somewhere between quaint and modern, with gift and stationary shops, a shoe store, a barber shop, a salon and a Starbucks. The neighborhood center is marked by two posts meant for flyers advertising coming events, and a thrift store; bars bookend the stretch, and in-between are places to brunch and lunch and family-run stores, so that the busiest time in the little downtown is Sunday afternoon.

On August 1 and 2, Roscoe Village expects the typical 60 or so shoppers and walkers to balloon to over 20,000 for the 14th annual Retro on Roscoe.

Last August the festival attracted a record crowd of an estimated 23,000, to the neighborhood, and this year the Roscoe Village Neighbors Association hopes to set a new record. Retro on Roscoe is a two-day long fest featuring 32 bands that play covers, or originals inspired by the music of the 1970s and 80s. Retro is the Neighbors Association’s main fundraiser, and it is also the quiet village’s main attraction.

Along with drawing people to the neighborhood the group has over 400 volunteers for the festival and features about 20 booths from Roscoe Village stores and restaurants. Last year the event helped raise $100,000 for the all-volunteer Roscoe Village Neighbors, and, according to the Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce, brought in about a quarter of a million dollars to local businesses.

Mary Vaught, a bartender at Millers Tap at Leavitt and Roscoe says that Retro always brings a packed house to the combo bar and liquor store.

“It’s always been a great…fest, we get a lot of people. They usually have some decent bands playing,” Vaught says of Retro. Vaught says she works the festival on Sundays, but comes to Roscoe on her day off to enjoy the fest. She says that the festival is great for business.

Frankie Andrae, the co-owner of Roscoe Village’s Original Expressions, at Roscoe and Hamilton, says that she and her business partner opened their doors during Retro because they “wanted it to be [Original Expressions’] anniversary.”Original Expressions keeps a booth on the street during Retro, and Andrae says the benefit from the added exposure is incalculable. “They bring in almost 20- or 30,000 people and that isn’t all people from the neighborhood,” she says.

Miller’s Tap and Original  Expressions aren’t the only businesses that benefit from the festival.

“It’s very positive for businesses,” says Mary Marcarian the executive director of the Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce. Almost all of the 250 businesses in the Chamber of Commerce are supportive of the event, according to Marcarian.

“Some [of the businesses] love it, some hate it,” Andrae says of the festival.

While most Roscoe Village residents seem excited for the festival, at least one village dweller plans to sit the event out. 

“I don’t know, I think maybe I’m too young for it,” says Andrew Dowd, 26, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years. “I don’t really care about hearing people play music from the 80s…it’s just not my scene.” Dowd did say, however; that the festival was not a major annoyance, saying that it was not a “big deal.”

But Dowd’s roommate Jason Fabeck, also 26, says he planned to visit.

“They’ve got beer, and even if they’re not the greatest, the bands are pretty fun,” he says.

Retro runs Saturday and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m., with the music stopping at 8 p.m. Along with a kids’ stage there are two other stages featuring live music, a beer tent and vendors selling clothes, artwork and food. Tickets for the event are $5 at the door, with no advanced ticketing. Entrances are at Damen and Roscoe, or Oakley and Roscoe.

Andrae says she is excited for the event, and that so are there rest of her neighbors.

“People love the music… it is fun…it’s kind of crazy out there.”

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