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Rain fails to spook off family friendly Guavaween

Just before 6 p.m. Saturday, the sun was still shining on Seventh Avenue. But that didn't stop a steady stream of vampires, devils, witches and assorted denizens of the dark from strolling down Ybor City's main drag.

Rain, though, was another story. When it started pouring a few minutes later, costumed creatures at the 10th annual Guavaween street party cowered under the balconies and overhangs of historic buildings, and the festival's annual parade of the bizarre broke up just as it started.

"Just trying to stay dry for another Guavaween," said Keith Noland, dressed as the Mad Hatter and huddled near the Barnett SuperTeller. "That's Florida, I guess."

His companion Melanie Cayce, dressed as a cat, said, "I got wet last year and got bronchitis."

Last year's Guavaween, plagued by cold, rainy weather and low attendance, also took ill, nearly forcing the end to the annual Halloween street party that already had struggled with financial and image problems.

But earlier this year, the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce decided to turn Guavaween over to a professional promoter, CC Event Productions, which lined up Budweiser as the main sponsor and, for the first time, charged patrons $5 admission.

Halloween spirits must have been smiling Saturday, because the weather goblins soon went away.

By 6:30 p.m. under clear skies, thousands of revelers poured into the streets of the historic district, going from beer tent to beer tent, or just watching the parade of humanity go by.

By 11 p.m., police estimated the Guavaween crowd at 60,000.

Bernice Dubin, 67, sat with her husband, Ralph Dubin, 74, sister-in-law Irene Gilbert, 60, and her husband, Larry Gilbert, 62. The foursome, all from Weeki Wachee, wore Halloween masks.

"This reminds me so much of Greenwich Village," said Mrs. Dubin. "It's lively. We come down here and have a great time. Then we go home and take our Geritol and go to bed."

A crowd gathered near the stage outside Tracks, where musical acts CeCe Penniston and All 4 One were set to perform. Guavaween headliners Foghat and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts also performed Saturday night.

"We're here to see all the people and the boys," said Idalis Estrada, 16, one of many partygoers not in costume.

But costumes are what Guavaween is all about.

Among this year's crop: A man who identified himself as "Milo, that's enough," came as a baseball player on strike, carrying a bat with a "Will Play for Food" sign attached.

"What makes a costume is timing," said Milo, who attended Guavaween last year as a dead German tourist.

Among other changes to Guavaween this year was its first stab, so to speak, at turning the normally alcohol-soaked event into something for the whole family. Promoters planned daytime activities for children.

But many who showed up for the new family friendly Guavaween said they were disappointed by the oddly un-Halloweenish theme.

Fair-like rides and food, shooting galleries and basketball hoop games lined the lot between Palm and Ninth avenues. Area merchants gave out candy to trick-or-treaters. Pumpkin-painting and a costume contest were held at Centennial Park.

"It's not like your typical Halloween," said Chris Raynor of Tampa, watching her 8-year-old daughter Shayna, a genie, dash off to ride the dragon roller coaster for the umpteenth time. "It's pretty much just some fair rides."

But, Raynor added, her kids weren't too concerned.

"It's fun," said her 5-year-old son Dayne, a hooded executioner, as he raised an arm high and plunged a retracting, plastic knife into his thigh.

"AAAAaaaaaa," the battery-operated knife screamed.

"Still," said Raynor with a shrug, "it's nice to be able to go to one place, trick or treat and do everything, and know it's safe."

Correspondent Mike Mahan contributed to this report.

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