Summertime is back on the schedule in downtown Kalamazoo

Tough times will not stop this year’s parade.
That’s the outlook for Kalamazoo’s annual send-up on fair-weather fun and frivolity, the Doh-Dah Parade — as well as several other summer events.
Titled “Do-Dah Parade — Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” the parade is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 5, and is "reversing" itself.
“It’s called a ‘reverse’ parade,” says Deb Droppers, executive director of event operator KELC (Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center) Events. “The units (parade participants) that would normally walk down the street are going to be standing still in the middle of Lovell Street and then people who would normally be sitting still on the curb, are going to do the walking.”
That will allow parade units, placed in stationary locations on Lovell Street between Jasper Street and the Kalamazoo Mall, to be socially distanced, she says. Parade-goers will be expected to start the parade at Jasper Street and walk west for the three city blocks.
She says parade-goers should access the start from Jasper and Walnut, or Portage and Lovell.
“They can come either one of those ways,” Droppers says. “There’s plenty of parking around that area. They can park on the street or park in a ramp.”
People can also bring their bicycles. “So if little kids want to ride their bikes or trikes, they can do that,” she says.
Being stationary is expected to allow participants in the parade units to be more creative. And as requirements to wear masks outdoors have been eased, the event has the opportunity to be more interactive.
“So there’s a little bit more interaction that kids will be able to participate and kind or have fun and meet people,” Droppers says.  
Moving past some big challenges
COVID-19 changed people’s lives here dramatically last year. When the first Saturday of June rolled around — the traditional kick-off time for downtown summer events — most people were quarantined at home to avoid the potentially deadly virus. And there was social unrest and anxiety as protests here and in other cities called attention to police shootings of unarmed African-Americans across the nation.
The Do-Dah Parade was rescheduled to Aug. 15. But Droppers says it was ultimately canceled — the first cancellation since its inception in 1984 — “because of the Proud Boys.” Members of that neo-fascist, far-right group held a protest downtown that resulted in a violent clash with counter-protesters. Anticipating trouble, city officials canceled the parade three days before it was to take place.
Efforts to restore seasonal events to pre-COVID success and participation levels are underway care of The Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership and event planners like Droppers.
“We may not have the Proud Boys but we have a thing called inflation, unemployment, and (businesses that) can’t find workers who will come back to work,” Droppers says. “So we’re still being affected by the pandemic.”
The Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership has announced a slate of downtown summer events involving art, food, music, and fun activities, starting with JumpstART Weekend, June 3 through 6. Previously called June Jubilee, it is entirely outdoor events including:
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Fair – The 70th anniversary fine arts event will continue this year as a virtual show from June 3 through June 6. Access to the virtual arts fair will be available at kiarts.org. An in-person component will be food trucks downtown on the Saturday of the event.
Art on the Mall, presented by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo – It is set for noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, June 4, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 5.
The Do-Dah Parade Follow the Yellow Brick Road – 11 a.m. Saturday, June 5. More information can be found here.
Art in the gallery  – There also will be free KIA gallery admission available during the JumpstART weekend festivities for the opening of the annual West Michigan Area Show, new permanent collection installation, Unveiling American Genius, and other lively exhibitions on view.   
Here are some other events:
Shop 2nd Saturdays downtown – Starting in June and continuing through October, every second Saturday of the month, from noon to 7 p.m. will feature an outdoor market where visitors can check out local businesses, entrepreneurs, and makers.
Live music downtown – Two free, weekly live music series are set to start soon. Beats on Bates is a weekly music series under the lights of Bates Alley in downtown Kalamazoo, each Wednesday evening from June 2 through Sept. 29. Music on the Mall is set to bring live performances to the Kalamazoo Mall (across from Gazelle Sports) from 3 to 6 p.m. every Saturday from June 12 through Sept. 25.
Workout Wednesdays – A weekly fitness class series featuring yoga, dance, and other workouts by local fitness organizations. They are scheduled for 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Bronson Park each Wednesday from June 2 through Sept. 29.
Sip and stroll downtown – The Central Commons Refreshment Area is one of the downtown’s newest features. It allows patrons of specified downtown taverns and eateries to buy and retain alcoholic beverages as they shop at, sit in, or walk to adjacent businesses in the commons area. The area operates from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. A list of participating businesses and rules is available here.
Among other things, Droppers says her organization has been organizing food truck rallies on the second Friday of each month. “Then in June, July and August, it will be every Tuesday. And we’re moving to different locations,” she says.
“The first Tuesday of every month, starting June 8, are in Oshtemo Township at Flesher Field,” she says. “The second Tuesdays are at The Mill in Vicksburg. The third Tuesdays are in Mattawan and the fourth Tuesdays are at Midtown Fresh in Kalamazoo.
All are to take place from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
Among improvements in the downtown, the street mural in Bates Alley has been repainted and a semi-permanent pavilion has been installed. The pavilion will provide a covered performance space for live performances and supersede the need for tents and a small stage that have been used in the past, according to Meghan Behymer, communications and marketing manager for the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership.
“We resurfaced the mural with the same design,” Behymer says. “It was normal wear and tear. It’s been three years since it was originally painted so there was just wear on it. We wanted to bring it back to the vibrancy it had when it was originally painted.”
The mural was repainted by original artists Patrick Hershberger and a team of volunteers.
“Public spaces have always been important in downtown cores,” Andrew Haan, president of the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, says in a prepared statement. “With the pandemic, these spaces are even more important for the community to safely connect and experience all that our downtown has to offer.”
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Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.