Gladys Paravalos peeled back the lid from an aluminum pan filled with round balls of fried dough, each one just a bit bigger than a golf ball.
“Do you want anything, honey?” she said to a curly-haired young woman pushing a stroller.
“You want one, Jo-Jo?” the woman cooed to the girl in the stroller before glancing hungrily back to the sticky-sweet balls of dough. “Yes, can we get like four of those, just in case she doesn’t like them?”
Paravalos is confident behind her booth, set up inside a giant white tent behind the Hellenic Center on Liberty Street.
“She will like them,” she replied without hesitation, her tone that of a stern teacher who knows what’s best. “I give you 13 for $5. You can have them later, too. Eat some tomorrow.”
The woman’s eyes lit up at the deal. Just wait until the little one tries one, said Paravalos, a volunteer with St. George Greek Orthodox Church. People always come back for the Loukoumades, a kind of fried-dough dessert soaked in sugar, syrup, honey and cinnamon.
“They don’t make these in the restaurants,” she said. “It’s a pain because of the frying, but they’re good. In Greece, they have these for breakfast.”
There was plenty of culture to go around Saturday in downtown Schenectady. Downtown was full of people, food, music, dance and art between the 38th annual Greek Festival across from City Hall, the 8th annual Little Italy StreetFest on North Jay Street, the 62nd annual Stockade Villagers’ Outdoor Art Show and live music along the Jay Street Marketplace.
Fabian Aviles started his day at the Greek Festival, eager to see some dancing and maybe grab a few gyros.
“I’m a big gyro fan,” he said. “I’m from the city. On 34th Street, there was this Greek spot, best gyros in the world. Believe it or not, these ones here compare.”
Festival organizer Evan Euripidou said people come from as far as Syracuse and New York City for the annual event, which used to be one of few events on a September weekend in downtown Schenectady a decade ago.
Since then, Little Italy StreetFest organizers saw the benefit of hosting their events on the same day. Occasionally, the Stockade art show would be scheduled for the same weekend.
“It lets us work together on the crowd,” said Euripidou, as he set up inside the Hellenic Center. “There’s a lot of cross-promoting. People will park at one of the events and just walk through downtown and experience all of them. It’s good because they’re all within a couple blocks of each other.”
A few blocks away, North Jay Street was packed with revelers. The sun remained out most of the day, adding to the festive spirit bubbling along the street known fondly around town as Little Italy.
A line stretched behind a booth set up outside More Perecca’s as people waited greedily for some eggplant and arancini.
Kim Terzian and her daughter, Marissa Belus, found a spot on the curb around the corner to sit down and enjoy their bread and rice-covered meatballs in plastic bowls.
“I organize parties, and we ordered food from them for our Christmas party last year,” said Terzian, of Delmar. “They’re very good. Of course, I knew that, having grown up in Schenectady. We’re going to Civitello’s next.”
Dozens of vendors lined the street, offering everything from local wines and beer to produce, dishware, jewelry and more.
Debbie White opened her jewelry store, KC Creations, on North Jay Street earlier this year and since then has found herself part of a tight-knit community. On Saturday, she talked with friends at a booth offering hand-beaded, Italian-themed jewelry.
“I get a lot of support from the other shops and restaurants,” she said above the sounds of Italian folk music. “They’re wonderful people and make you feel part of a family.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy’s plan was to hit each of the events taking place Saturday. He started with the unveiling of a historical marker at 402 Union St., site of the old Kerste’s Drug Store, and then made his way over to the Stockade art show, the Jay Street pedestrian mall, the Greek Festival and Little Italy.
“It’s a little bit unusual,” he said. “People will tell you, you know, do these things individually, but this has evolved to the point where you get a community spirit that you really couldn’t replicate. And, it turns out, they really don’t compete against each other. They kind of complement each other.”