It was a day for the French and the French-at-heart Wednesday as hundreds stormed not the Bastille, but Larchmont Avenue to commemorate the French holiday with music, food and shopping at local vendors.
Larchmont's second Bastille Day block party — the first with the entire block between Boston Post Road and Addison Street closed to traffic — drew more than 750 people in search of a taste of France in Larchmont, said Ben Aiello, co-owner of Auray Gourmet and an organizer of the event.
"People are eating and dancing and enjoying themselves in general," Aiello said at around 6:30 p.m. as he surveyed the 30-deep line for crepes at a tent set up outside his shop. "This is exactly what we expected."
At one end of the street, a lineup of area musicians brought children to their feet with songs, while along the sidewalks more than 21 local businesses set up booths to tempt strollers with everything from cotton candy to face painting.
Larchmont resident Maria Garzona, co-owner of Sweet Teez, a candy and ice cream boutique open since September, her hand busy whipping up cotton candy outside her shop, said the event breaks the doldrums of summer.
"The summer here is a little slow because everyone is away at camp so this is a great way to bring the town together and increase business, and that's what we all need to do," Garzona said.
Melanie Rose, owner of the crafting shop Beadz, set up a table where visitors could make their own earrings, necklaces and charm bracelets.
"Business is very tough in Larchmont these days. People are spending way less because of the economy," she said. "Hopefully, this will see local people coming out and seeing a lot of local businesses and saying, 'Yeah, that's why I love living here.' "
Village trustees Anne McAndrews, Jaine Eney and Marlene Kolbert were selling T-shirts with "Vive Larchmont" — "Long Live Larchmont" — for $10 to $15 to celebrate the day and to support local vendors.
"It tells the whole story in one T-shirt," Kolbert said. "We have a large French community."
Nearly one in 10 Larchmont residents can claim either French or French-Canadian ancestry, according to the U.S. Census.
The village is home to the French-American School of New York as well as French-themed businesses like Auray Gourmet and restaurants like Encore Bistro and Pascal's.
Larchmont resident John Forger, a volunteer for New Rochelle's HOPE Community Services, which was selling baked goods at the block party to raise money for the food pantry, said he has seen a big increase in the French population in the years he's lived in the village.
"I've seen a lot of French people come here and it's really enhanced the community culturally. They have opened a lot of business. It's added to our community because it's like a melting pot," he said.
Larchmont resident Dinah Vero, a native of the island of Martinique and a music teacher at the French-American School of New York in Larchmont, said the village is a magnet for French speakers like herself.
"If I point like this," she said, gesturing to the lively crowd, "I can pinpoint people I know everywhere. I think people like to be surrounded by people with the same roots. I could be teaching or I could be living in other places, but for me, it's a plus to be speaking my mother language every day."
Olga Amado of Eastchester brought her 5-year-old grandson to the event to give him a taste of France in Westchester.
"Because it's such an international day, I wanted him to experience the town and the culture," she said.
Louise Vallely, 11, of Larchmont, taking a pause from clapping along to the sounds of Larchmont singer and music educator Armelle Gloaguen, said the day has meaning for her because of her family background.
"I'm half French, and I think it's great how even Americans are celebrating," said Vallely, who already had a taste of Bastille Day with crepes at home.
Amy Kriegler of New Rochelle, watching her daughter, Julianne Paccione, 8, get her nails painted in the red, white and blue of the French flag, had plans to try out Auray's delicacies later on.
"I would like to get a crepe and I saw some French chocolate that I want," she said. "I studied French in school for 10 years and I went to France, so I'm a Francophile."
John Kish, a 21-year-old Larchmont resident and Revolutionary War re-enactor who has performed at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, brought the July 14, 1789, holiday to life as he strolled the streets shouting the French national motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality, brotherhood).
"The Americans need a bit of a reminder that the French did so much to help them in the Revolution," he said in a Gallic accent. "I'm here to represent them."