A refreshing, rainless weekend day — a rarity in recent weeks — brought out the crowds Sunday for Grand Old Day in St. Paul, the giant one-day festival that has long been known as "the first rite of summer."

Georgia Finnegan Amdahl, a director of the Grand Avenue Business Association, said she's worked at the event for about 15 years and believes this year's attendance could be the biggest ever. "We're all doing the Happy Dance," she said, scanning the crowd strolling up and the down the 2 ½-mile stretch of Grand Avenue.

The festival is believed to be the largest event of its kind in the Midwest, typically drawing about 250,000 people to eat, drink, shop for art and crafts, play games and listen to music. It is the business association's annual fundraiser and marked its 40th anniversary this year.

St. Paul Police Officer Spencer Etienne agreed that the balmy weather appeared to be boosting attendance. "It looks like the numbers are up," said Etienne. He said the crowd was generally well-behaved.

This year's event had about 175 vendors, according to Emily Kittleson, events and membership coordinator for the business association.

Planning the event is almost a year-round activity, with vendors signing on early in the year. "It has evolved a lot over the years, with something new and different every year," she said. □