Aug. 15--Suddenly, it seems people are excited to be in Oak Park.
On Thursday evening, hundreds of people mingled into the night eating an assortment of Sacramento restaurant offerings and enjoying local craft beer on a closed-off Third Avenue, which was temporarily transformed into an outdoor restaurant-nightspot for the community's third Gather Oak Park event.
Whereas concerts in the park are about the music and food truck events allow people to eat in isolation, the compact layout and design of Gather events lend themselves to community interaction, said Maritza Davis, who organizes the events with her husband and business partner, Roshaun Davis.
"It's a lot of people and a lot of energy," said Ruth Lindahl, a Hiram Johnson High School teacher who has lived in the neighborhood for about eight months.
"It's a lot you can fit in one block," said Chris Brown, Lindhal's husband.
The hope is that the events -- held from 5 to 9 p.m. on the second Thursday through October -- further the growing sense of community and excitement in the long-beleaguered Oak Park community. The event, backed by vendors and the Oak Park Business Association, is free to enter.
"The idea behind Gather is a community that eats together stays together," Maritza Davis said. "We wanted people to come into the neighborhood and be able to build with each other over food."
Maritza Davis said they put great care in crafting the food options and transforming the block from a roadway into a warm and inviting space.
Communal tables were covered in white linen. A green artificial lawn covered the concrete. Children played on a geodesic dome.
As the sun set on a clear summer night, several members of Mahogany Urban Poetry performed for the crowd.
The gather events have quickly found an audience, drawing an estimated 1,200 to the second event in July. The team behind the events also is behind the Good Street Food + Design Market in Del Paso Heights. Oak Park developer Ron Vrilakas asked the pair -- who own Unseen Heroes, an events company -- to propose an event for Oak Park, Maritza Davis said.
Vrilakas likely hopes the events will help attract buyers and renters for his $12 million, 29-unit row house development, under construction on the other side of Broadway.
The events are "great for the community," said Georgia West, owner of Underground Books and mother of Mayor Kevin Johnson. "We've always had such a stigma, but we have all these new businesses. We're coming around."
One of these new businesses, Old Soul Co. coffee roaster and baker, held cold brew classes and offered its creations for sale.
Manager Jamie Mason said she saw the event as a chance to meet neighbors.
Nearby Karma Collars, which had been a home-based dog collar business until recently, has received a boost in in-store sales from the event, which brings hundreds of people to its front door.
"It's been great for us," said Amy McMullan, the owner of the company.
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