Editorial: Assessing the festival 40 years later

The 40th anniversary of the Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival, scheduled this weekend, gives us an opportunity to weigh its impact on downtown Los Altos.

Decades later, the festival remains Los Altos’ most popular event. Each year, we gather to celebrate sunny summertimes and enjoy a weekend escape.

For some restaurants, the festival’s lure of thousands of additional customers is a boon for business. Arts and wine festivals are about eating, drinking, strolling and viewing. Restaurants, especially those with outdoor dining, easily capitalize.

But for some retailers and service businesses, their operations take a back seat to all of the artist booths and refreshment stands that line Main and State streets. It’s understandable – after all, visitors come to view art, listen to music and drink beer and wine, not drop off their dry cleaning.

At the same time, the irony is not lost on us that the festival started back in 1979 as a way of generating more business downtown. But let’s face it, the festival primarily generates business for the artists and vendors. And uniqueness is not a strong trait of these events – you will find the same $6 lemonades and barbecued chicken sticks at Mountain View’s festival in September as you will this weekend in Los Altos.

One could argue that the festival does prompt visitors to return downtown for further exploring. Someone from San Jose might notice the typewriter store on State Street, for example, and make a mental note to come back another day.

Perhaps the best reason for holding the festival is that it is the main income producer for the Los Altos Village Association. Its proceeds enable the downtown-promoting organization to continue enriching the downtown area year-round in a variety of ways – from special events to advocacy on behalf of the merchants.

And minor gripes aside, if this event is bringing joy to people, what is there really to complain about?

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