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VOL. 127 | NO. 179 | Thursday, September 13, 2012

Historically Hip

Cooper-Young Festival celebrates 25 years of fundraising for the district

By Sarah Baker

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There will be meandering crowds, hand-made art, funky tunes, political campaigning, locally sourced foods and a fireworks display.

When it started 25 years ago, the Cooper-Young Festival drew 2,000 people. Some 120,000 visitors are expected this year.

(Photo Courtesy of Cooper-Young Business Association)

More than 400 vendor booths are slated to celebrate this year’s 25th anniversary of the Cooper Young Festival on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the corner of Cooper Street and Young Avenue.

Now Memphis’ largest single-day neighborhood event, the festival is a free, family-friendly, homegrown music, arts and crafts street festival that draws thousands to the “hip-storic” Cooper Young District.

The 2012 Cooper-Young Festival is dedicated to Bill Stemmler, festival chairman for the last 25 years. He recalls October 1988, when he garnered the funds by Boatman’s Bank and other sources to subsidize the inaugural festival. The event headliner that year was Joyce Cobb and a mere 59 vendors participated.

“It started out really cool and overcast,” said Stemmler, vice president and Community Reinvestment Act community development officer with Cadence Bank. “Then I think around noon or 1 o’clock, the crowd kind of picked up and the weather got warmer. I was in a heavy jacket, then a sweatshirt, then out of that to a T-shirt.”

The change in temperature would eventually bring some 2,000 attendees, which deemed the festival a success. Today, Cooper-Young Festival boasts more than 120,000 visitors in its 10 hours of operation.

Hosted annually by the Cooper Young Business Association, the festival draws local and regional homeowners, merchants and businesses to the district – brand recognition that likely no other neighborhood in the city can claim. Festival proceeds are redistributed into the area’s nonprofit organizations, the local community police office and to make infrastructure improvements.

“Every year, because of people coming that hadn’t been here, or lived in Memphis and didn’t even know it existed, it helps promote that,” Stemmler said. “They come and they spend money at the festival that we put back into the community. It helps us operate and promote this area 365 (days a year).”

Cooper–Young Festival 2012 Music Lineup

12:15 pm Side Street Steppers
1:15 pm The Memphis Dawls
2:15 pm Patrick Dodd Trio
3:15 pm Darrel Petties & Strength in Praise
4:15 pm Tiger High
5:15 pm Ross Rice Band 


(corner of Young and Meda Street)
12:30 pm Candy Company
1:30 pm Nancy Apple
2:30 pm Allied Standard
3:30 pm The Soul Thieves
4:30 pm Harpeth Rising


(in front of the Lifelink Church at the corner of Cooper and Walker)
12:15 pm Lindsay Ritter
1:15 pm The Covers
2:15 pm Darien Clea
3:15 pm Freakenyeah
4:15 pm She Said


Mary Burns, owner of longtime Cooper-Young tenant Java Cabana, attributes the festival’s growth to the fact that nearly all of the businesses in the vicinity are locally owned.

“That creates something special in our neighborhood,” she said. “We see a lot of new faces and we see a lot of familiar faces, we see both.”

Another local business owner is Dana W. McBride of Toad Hall Antiques. While she closes her shop because of its location at Central Avenue and Cooper where the stoplight is blocked, she is trying something different this year.

“We are going to actually try and have some items in our parking lot because so many people walk by,” McBride said. “So we’re setting up a tent and we’re going to have local artwork that we carry here at the store.”

Meanwhile, Duncan Aiken of Skunx Chef Pub at 2158 Young Ave., is preparing for his first year in business during the festival by tweaking his menu to those on the go.

“I’m trying to focus on small plates that are quick, easy, fast, that people can just get in and out,” Aiken said. “We’re doing a barbecue bacon-wrapped shrimp with water chestnuts in it, bit-sized crab cakes, my homemade meatballs and then of course, pizza by the slice.”

Even those businesses not directly in the district expect to capitalize on increased traffic.

“It really does bring a nice, healthy business to everything around it,” said Gene Elliott of Calming Influence Massage & Bodywork at 74 N. Cooper St. “We’ve got some flyers and coupons out there specifically that are going to be floating around at the festival, so that usually helps as well.”

For those who prefer music over shopping, the Main Stage kicks off at 12:15 p.m., and headliner Ross Rice Band starts at 5:15 p.m. Performances on that stage, as well as the Memphis Drum Shop Stage and Visible Music College Stage, include Nancy Apple, Tiger High, Darien Clea, Darrel Petties, The Memphis Dawls, Patrick Todd Trio and Freakenyeah, to name a few.

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