Tue07222014

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Putting in time for arts & wine

Popular Los Altos festival requires lots of resident volunteers and hard work

Los Altos Village Association organizer Andy Robles, LAVA president Kent Nelson and Los Altos Mayor Patti Williams welcome visitors to the 17th annual downtown Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival, happening this weekend. The festival, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, features a host of fine art, food and entertainment. Such an undertaking comes about through the hard work of hundreds of volunteers.

Photo by Monique Schoenfeld, Town Crier.

If you ask any director of the Los Altos Village Association (LAVA) what it takes to put on the popular downtown Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival, July 13 and 14, they will tell you - lots of hard work.

"It takes a lot of energy, a surplus of time and an abundance of ideas," said Jane Reed, a former executive director of the association who was instrumental in the growth of the festival. "It means staying up all night before the festival to see that the booths are in the right place."

Once the big show starts, that quaint small-town atmosphere of downtown Los Altos is transformed into a bustling center of activity where an estimated 100,000 people will visit more than 400 booths and listen to a variety of entertainment.

Seventeen years ago, Marion Jackston, the former matriarch of downtown Los Altos retailers, convinced LAVA members to start a festival type "garage sale" as a fund-raiser for the association. She suggested the association sponsor a downtown festival in the South Parking Plaza.

The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival, which began in 1980, turned out to be the greatest fund-raiser imaginable for the association. It now ranks 75th in the nation, according to the prestigious Harris Rhodes List, a service that contains up-to-date information on the best arts and craft shows in the United States.

"To have a good festival you need people having a good time," Reed said. "When preparing for the festival, we consider families with their children and try to create an atmosphere with activities for everyone, and that takes a lot of work."

"What makes this festival great are the community volunteers," said Los Altos Mayor Patti Williams. "We couldn't have this type of event that draws people from all over the Bay Area without volunteers."

People of all ages and backgrounds volunteer at the festival. According to Kathleen Byrne, LAVA executive director, more than 600 people are needed to run the festival, from preparations to clean-up. It's the only festival of this size in the Bay Area not run by professional organizers.

Many of the volunteers are retired who like to keep active like Chuck Angin. He has resided in Los Altos for 41 years and this is his fifth year of volunteering at the festival.

"My job is to count the cash and see that it gets in the bank," Angin said. "The festival is getting bigger and more successful each year and without it, LAVA couldn't function."

Angin is one of 400 volunteers assigned by an outside firm who keeps track of volunteers for LAVA. Used for the first time, Mobil Insights Co. keeps track of volunteers from a computer data base and makes assignments through the computer. The data base tells where each volunteer is assigned and the hour they report. The computer keeps track of every booth and can pinpoint where help is needed.

Julie Chancerelle, Peninsula West Valley Association of Realtors (PenWest) executive in the Los Altos office, recruited 100 real estate agents from Los Altos to staff the six wine booths for the two-day festival.

Additional volunteers are necessary to work in service group booths. Sertoma, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs of Los Altos depend on the festival to raise funds for their operations.

"It's a nice fund raiser for us," said Jerry Sorensen of Kiwanis Club of Los Altos. He estimated the club would sell 2,000 polish sausages over the weekend and that Kiwanis usually generates approximately $5,000 in proceeds. Sorensen said 65 of the club's 75 members will be participating at this year's festival.

LAVA president Kent Nelson said the festival is the envy of other communities. "We are looked upon in the Bay Area as the premium example of a downtown professional organization because of the size of our arts & wine festival," he said. "Everyone wishes they could emulate our vision, vitality and merchant dedication. The physical attributes from the lamp posts to the new hanging banners this year are examples of benefits from the festival."

Some of the retailers, who once resented the festival, are now more accepting, and even benefiting from it.

"Regular customers don't come in because they can't find parking places," said Ron Shanholtz, owner of Mac's Tea Room on Main Street . "But I do a good day's business without my regular customers. The bar does great and the restaurant does well for the two days."

Nick Testa, owner of the Italian Delicatessen on Main Street, said he depends on the business and he has to stock the store to get ready for the festival. "I think it's great for the town and a real good exposure for Los Altos," he said.

Lynn Whitaker of Los Altos Camera said he breaks even. The regular customers don't come in because they can't get close, Whitaker said, but a lot of festival browsers come in.

The Los Altos Garbage Company (LAGCo) keeps the ever-growing event as clean and neat as possible with garbage detail on a grand scale.

John Angin, LAGCo general manager, who has worked the festival since its inception, is in charge of making sure rubbish and recyclable containers are continually emptied and the grounds are kept clean. For the festival, the company uses about 15 employees and about 30 volunteers.

Angin said the garbage flow becomes enormous around noon. "Sunday is the busiest day," Angin said. "Any garbage can will fill up seven to eight times per day and we're constantly emptying it. Over the two days we collect 20-25 tons of garbage and recyclables."

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