Living & Entertainment

Telling the real Hilltop story with the third Hilltop Street Fair

Ninth and 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle Re-enactment Organization ride their horses at the Hilltop Street Fair in 2015. The event included performances, booths, car and art exhibitions, food, and kid-friendly fun.
Ninth and 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle Re-enactment Organization ride their horses at the Hilltop Street Fair in 2015. The event included performances, booths, car and art exhibitions, food, and kid-friendly fun. Staff file, 2015

Back when Kristie Worthey moved to Tacoma’s Hilltop in the 1980s, the neighborhood was defined by nationally notorious crime. Now it’s home to microbusinesses and young women riding their bikes to restaurants.

It’s this story that Worthey wants to tell with this year’s Hilltop Street Fair, along with Native American history, European immigration, local talent and more. Happening this Saturday along Martin Luther King Jr. Way, the third annual street fair is expanding both location and lineup to tell the real Hilltop story.

“Hilltop has a problem — and that’s perception,” said Worthey, the fair’s organizer. “That perception of a dangerous neighborhood is still out there, but we’re walking around on the streets and we all know each other. It’s important we tell our story and bring people to the Hilltop.”

That perception of a dangerous neighborhood is still out there, but we’re walking ’round on the streets, and we all know each other. —

Kristie Worthey, Hilltop Street Fair organizer

Now in its third year, the fair has been growing. An estimated 5,000 people came in 2014, and 10,000 in 2015. The event just won a third place prize in the National Neighborhoods USA 2016 awards for Best Neighborhood Social Revitalization.

And this year, it’s growing in footprint and community involvement. On Saturday, the fair will extend two more blocks along Martin Luther King Jr. Way, from South Ninth to 13th Streets, and back to L Street behind People’s Park. Part of that is to include the annual Latin Arts Festival: Centro Latino is partnering with the Hilltop Business Association to hold the two events on the same day. A microbusiness barrio, traditional puppet shows, an art show, film contest and costume promenade will bring Tacoma’s Latino community to the Hilltop fair.

The expansion includes new events, like a fashion parade of local designers and shops, and a storytelling center with historical photo exhibits, free books, live storytelling and more. Popular groups from last year, including the mounted Buffalo Soldiers re-enactors and Black Top Rebels Car Club, will be back. There will be food trucks and local restaurants to choose from.

10,000people at last year’s Hilltop Street Fair

“It’s fantastic,” said Morris McCollum. Now 89, the owner of the Mr. Mac clothing store has been in business on the Hilltop since 1957. “It enlightens people that come that the Hilltop isn’t as bad as it used to be.”

Worthey, who’s lived in the neighborhood on and off since the 1980s, says she likes it because it’s affordable and people know each other.

(It’s) a grass-roots effort … we’re all striving to have a healthy neighborhood. —

Kristie Worthey

“I love the community,” she said. “The perception is that it’s dangerous, but people in the neighborhood have come together to do something about it. There are microbusinesses, new infrastructure and development, but also a lot of social outreach groups and more churches than any neighborhood in Tacoma. That’s what the judges (of National Neighborhoods USA) saw — a grass-roots effort, … that we’re all striving to have a healthy neighborhood.”

Here’s what’s at the Hilltop Street Fair this Saturday.

Five stages

This year, five stages offer live performances throughout the day.

▪ KBTC and Coordinated Care Stage.

Where: Northeast corner of People’s Park

What: Jakesa Marimba Band (11 a.m.), Buffalo Soldiers (12:30 p.m.), Flor de Luna (1 p.m.), Recovery Café testimonials (2:30 p.m.), Navelle Davis (3 p.m.), Kayne Dynell and Varsity Crew (3:30 p.m.), Scooter Spencer and the Hip Hop Review (4 p.m.), Peace and Red Velvet (4:30 p.m.), Priest Masterson (5 p.m.), The Happy Sinners (6 p.m.).

▪  AME Stage.

Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Way and S. 13th Street, behind the revival tent.

What: R&B and DJs throughout the day, also Bob’s BBQ.

▪  1111 Stage.

Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South 11th Street.

What: Zook (11 a.m.), Twink the Wonder Kid (noon.), Infinite Flux (1 p.m.), The Hillbailey’s Country Jam (2 p.m.), Acid Teeth (3 p.m.), Pig Snout (4 p.m.), CFA (5 p.m.), Silver Dollars (6 p.m.), Hilltop Rats (7 p.m.).

▪  Community Health Plan of Washington Stage.

Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Earnest S. Brazill Street.

What: Groupo Fuego (11 a.m.), fashion show (1 p.m.), SOVA (2 p.m.), Terrence Paul Quartet (4 p.m.), SMAC Move Crew (4:30 p.m.), Kayne Dynell and Varsity Crew (6 p.m.).

▪  Tacoma Housing Authority Stage.

Where: South Ninth and L streets, behind People’s Park.

What: Live storytelling, acoustic music by The Happy Sinners, guitarist Micah Moore and others.

Hilltop stories

Inside the old KeyBank building (South 11th and L streets) photos from the library, Tacoma Historical Society and residents will tell the history and stories of Hilltop from Native American village through Caucasian settlement, Eastern European immigration, the troubled 1970s and 1980s, urban blight and recent rejuvenation. There will also be local storytellers performing live and book giveaways for kids.

Latin Arts Fest

This year, the Latin Arts Fest joins in with the Hilltop Street Fair.

▪ Barrio. A barrio (market) of local microbusinesses will gather in the Tacoma Housing Authority parking lot at South 10th and L streets. Expect to see traditional and contemporary Latino arts, crafts and food of the Carribean, North, Central and South American regions. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

▪ Puppet stage. A traditional Latin American puppet stage will be part of the barrio, organized by members of the Peruvian and Colombian communities. Children can hear folk tales and take part as musicians, storytellers and dancers.

▪ Art show. A Latino art show is now up on the walls in Centro Latino, 1208 S. 10th St. Featuring 16 artists from the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, the show tells the story of Latino life in the U.S. from recent immigrants to second- and third-generation Latin Americans. On display are paintings, photographs, prints and drawings, and the art includes works by amateurs and professionals. In the education room is “Mother Earth and the New World,” a painting commissioned by the festival from Seattle artist Blanca Santander in response to a community panel on Latino experiences. An artist reception runs 6-8 p.m. Saturday, and the show is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday until then.

▪ Film contest. A summer filmmaking class aimed at Latino youth resulted in four entries for the first Latino film competition. Films will be screened at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at Centro Latino, and later will be available at

▪ Promenade of flags. At 1:30 p.m., a colorful parade of costumed dancers will carry flags from 25 Latin American countries from the barrio down L Street, up South 13th Street and back along Martin Luther King Jr. Way to People’s Park, where a band will play one song from each country represented.

Fashion Show

New this year, the fashion show at 1 p.m. at the Community Health Plan of Washington Stage will feature local designers and vintage shops, as well as local models.

“We got the idea to support a thrift store that was struggling,” said Worthey. “Then we discovered all kinds of individual designers who live in the area. … It turned into a big thing.”

Designers include DKR Fashion and Erika Ray, plus clothing from consignment stores Kids Kaboodle, Dazed and Reused and Glenda’s Clothing, as well as new fashion from Mr. Mac.

Community groups

Part of what makes the Hilltop Street Fair different from other Tacoma festivals is the way it serves the local neighborhood. In People’s Park, local nonprofits and community groups will offer free dental and health screenings and a sneak preview by Tacoma Art Museum of its upcoming “30 Americans” exhibition, with large-scale reproductions from the show and art activities about exploring your own identity.

Other groups include the library, the Tacoma Tool Library, local places of worship, museums, education, Metro Parks, the YMCA and the Dockyard Derby Dames.

Along Martin Luther King Jr. Way, commercial vendors will sell art and clothing, gourmet food and guitars.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Hilltop Street Fair/Latin Arts Fest

When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: South Ninth to 13th streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma.

Cost: Free.