RJ 150: When thousands crowded downtown streets for the Meriden Expo

RJ 150: When thousands crowded downtown streets for the Meriden Expo


MERIDEN — For six consecutive years in the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of thousands of people attended the annual Meriden Expo in the city’s downtown. The expo, a food and craft fair originally established in 1976 to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, was canceled in 1982 due to several arrests and fights the year prior, though it was brought back for one year in 1993.

A downtown extravaganza, the Meriden Expo was created in 1976 by Robert Treloar and Mark Zebora, former parks and recreation director. It was held on Labor Day weekend and brought about 150,000 people to downtown over three days. Several downtown streets were shut down, stages were constructed, and area businesses sold goods out of tents.

The second expo held in 1977 attracted about 175,000 people. Beer, hamburgers and ethnic foods were sold, as well as crafts.

“I think we’ve established something of a tradition,” Treloar told the Record-Journal in 1977.

The expo was held for the next several years. During the 1981 expo, six people were arrested and there were about 20 reports of fights. Concerns also arose about the use and sale of alcohol at the festival.

“Anytime you get a bunch of people in a crowd like this there’s bound to be trouble,” former police Lt. Dominick Colangelo told the Record-Journal at the time. “But this time it was worse than before.”

In December 1981, the Heritage, Culture and Public Celebrations Commission voted to end the Meriden Expo after businesses reported low profits during the weekend.

“There’s no sense in doing the expo if downtown merchants are against it,” Lynn Faria, chairwoman of the commission said in 1981.

In May 1982, Faria said the expo would be held at Falcon Field, but the City Council later voted against it.

Talks of reviving the expo arose in 1985, when then-City Councilor Abraham Grossman filed a resolution that would form a new committee to begin planning a “new, improved expo.” Though the resolution was adopted in spirit by the council’s Finance Committee, it was not adopted in the letter of resolution.

Meriden Expo “brought in 150,000 people from all-around the state,” Grossman said at the time. “It put Meriden on the map and everyone enjoyed themselves.”

Plans to bring the Meriden Expo back finally materialized in 1993, when about 35,000 people attended the festival to celebrate the completion of a $24 million downtown revitalization. Jane Earnest, a member of the organizing committee, said at the time the expo helped changed the perception that downtown is not a safe place. It was the last Meriden Expo held.

The city’s downtown is currently undergoing another revitalization effort. Last year, the city opened the Meriden Green, a 14-acre park and flood control basin, and in July, the new train station is expected to be complete. Several new housing projects are also planned.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati said he would be open to the idea of downtown hosting a street fair at the appropriate time in the future.

“I think it’d be great to have that in downtown once we’re ready for it,” he said. “If there’s interest we could definitely look to do something.”

Twitter: @BryanLipiner


Latest Videos