In 1972, the Manhattan Beach City Council had an idea - hold a street fair in the fall to bring the community together. They set up a bunch of hay bales, closed off the street at night and had a big party.

Forty years later, the Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair has become one of the most popular community events in the South Bay, attracting thousands from across Los Angeles over the first weekend in October.

"I think what we feel makes us special is that we preciously guard the commercialization of the fair," said Maggie Movius, president of the Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair Association, the nonprofit group of 20 volunteers that puts on the annual fair.

"We have businesses fighting us all year long trying to get into the fair, but we don't do that. We really try to protect fairgoers, to be just about eating cotton candy, playing with clowns, listening to music and drinking a beer. We're really proud of that."

This year, about 50 food vendors, 40 game vendors and more than 200 arts and crafts booths will blanket Valley/Ardmore near Live Oak Park and the Joslyn Center. The Kids Country will feature pony rides, pirate and wild animal shows and bounce houses, and adults can visit the beer and wine gardens and listen to several bands that will be playing throughout the area.

All of the vendors, the games and the beer and wine gardens are staffed by local nonprofit organizations such as Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, the Neptunian Woman's Club, schools and churches, Movius said.

Grand View Elementary parents buy more than 800 pounds of tri-tip, gather the night before the fair to marinate it, store it overnight and cook the meat at the fair, she said.

Grand View and the other nonprofit organizations keep the money left over after the cost of supplies.

"Everything we do is about raising money for the community," Movius said. "The fees we generate from selling the booth space pay for the toilets, the trash and the insurance. When we're finished at the end of this year, we're lucky if we break even.

"We're just trying to do a good thing and not make any money."

Fairgoers have no clue what it takes to put on the event, Movius said.

"There's an unbelievable amount of heart that every one of our fair members puts into this. We're so good at what we do, we're able to make it look easy," Movius said.

Volunteers range in age from 25 to 75, Movius said, and they'll be on fair duty beginning 5 p.m. Thursday night until cleanup ends around noon on Monday.

Movius emphasized that over four decades, the fair has been able to maintain the city's hometown feel.

"For every child, there's a special moment about the Hometown Fair," she said. "If you're a toddler, you want to ride the ponies, or you go on the bounceys. You get to be a teenager and you want your face painted, and all your friends are there. If you're a young adult, you're going to the beer garden. A more mature adult is going to the wine garden. If you're a senior, you're playing bingo. We try to offer something for everybody."

Want to go?

What: The Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair.
Where: Valley/Ardmore near Live Oak Park and the Joslyn Center
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 6-7, 2012. A parade of city officials in woodie cars led by the Mira Costa High School marching band will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday near the Joslyn Center.
Info: For a full list of events, performance schedules and details on parking and a shuttle service, visit www.mbfair.org.
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