Festival gives downtown Los Altos the ultimate exposure
There are many who believe the downtown Los Altos Arts and Wine festival is one of the top family festivals on the peninsula. The festival includes children's programs, music and entertainment that other art and wine festivals don't begin to utilize.
When there are 500 hard working volunteers promoting a friendly family atmosphere, it's easy to understand why an estimated 100,000 people will visit the booths of 385 artists in the downtown area for the two-day festival.
Sixteen years ago, Marion Jackston, known by some as the matriarch of downtown Los Altos, convinced the downtown Los Altos Village Association (LAVA) to start a festival type "garage sale." After seeing how successful the Festival of Lights Parade became in 1977, she suggested the association sponsor the downtown Los Altos Arts and Wine Festival in the South Parking Plaza.
The festival wasn't heartily received by some merchants, but Jackston addressed concerns by talking to opponents individually. As she envisioned, the Los Altos Arts and Wine Festival, which began in 1980, turned out to be the greatest fund-raiser imaginable for the association.
The festival provides the "seed money" for other events. LAVA organizers use festival proceeds to fund and promote the annual Festival of Lights Parade, a Halloween window painting contest, concerts in the Community Plaza, a downtown Easter Egg Hunt, high school scholarships and other activities.
Jane Reed, former executive director of LAVA, said the festival began as a fund-raiser for other events and has met the goal each year.
"The festival has progressed into a family get-together where you see people you haven't seen for a long time. We tried to bill this as a greeting place for families."
At the same time, the festival is also a great fund-raiser for service clubs and non-profit organizations that operate festival booths.
Sandy Grisedale, executive director of LAVA, also touts the benefits of the Arts and Wine Festival.
"It's prestige for Los Altos," she said. "Visitors see what we have to offer in downtown Los Altos and they come back time and time again to shop. Each year we have co-sponsors who want to be associated with the festival. These organizations are so supportive of the festival that they want to come back each year."
LAVA president Kent Nelson said the festival is the envy of other communities. "Because of our Arts and Wine Festival, LAVA is looked upon in the Bay Area as the premium example of a downtown merchant and professional organization," he said. "Everyone wishes they could emulate our vision, vitality and merchant dedication. The physical attributes from the lamp posts to the hanging banners are examples of benefits from the festival."
Norm Chu, owner of Baskin-Robbins on State Street, said not all merchants are happy with the festival because it takes away some of their Saturday business and it takes up all the parking places.
"I'm on the board of directors of LAVA and a lot of merchants don't understand that the festival covers all the expenses for the year," he said. "I'm for it 110 percent, because its a great opportunity to showcase downtown as well as the services other towns don't have."
Ron Shanholtz, owner of Mac's Tea Room on Main Street, has mixed feelings over the benefits of the festival.
"The biggest negative is the festival closes down Main and State Streets for two days," he said. "Most of the people come from out of town and regular customers don't shop because of a lack of parking spaces. 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."
"The festival generates more walk-in traffic than any other event," said William Puccetti, owner of Design and Interiors on State Street. "We are open both days and we make good sales each day. I have talked to other merchants explaining how important it is to stay open on Sunday just to get the exposure."
Dennis Ronberg, owner of Linden Tree Children's Records and Books on State Street, first organized a children's stage for the festival, an element that keeps expanding with each passing year.
"The benefits of the Arts and Wine festival have helped Los Altos become a unique city by developing the atmosphere of a family community," Ronberg said. "Having the children's stage adds another dimension that other festivals don't have. The children's program is a quality event other festivals don't try to follow. It brings in a lot of families from out of town.
"My business on the days of the festival are not that great, but the festival allows parents to discover our store and they return later to browse and purchase."
Service clubs also benefit from the festival, as the Sertoma, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs will attest.
Sandy Pakaski, president of Sertoma Club, will work in a barbecue food booth as Sertoma participates in its fifth year at the festival. Sertoma profits will support the Olde Town Band, the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC), the Community Services Agency (CSA) and School for the Deaf.
The festival is the second biggest fund-raiser for the Kiwanis Club. Kiwanis president Elizabeth Cleary said their profits help provide projects to senior groups in Los Altos, scholarships and contributions to CSA.
Noreen Sorg of the Los Altos Police Department cited only one arrest at the festival the past two years, indicating crowds attending recent festivals have been well-behaved.
"I want to stress that we've never had a problem," Grisedale said. "We've been lucky in that we've had great crowds." She said three police officers will be patrolling festival grounds each day.
Festival clean-up, in the hands of Los Altos Garbage Company employees, also has been handled well, organizers say.
"Street trash cans will be emptied before, during and after the weekend," Nelson said. "City crews have been planting additional flowers and plants and tidying up. They will sweep and clean up Monday morning (July 10) by 6 a.m." He said 20 rest rooms and four handicapped facilities will be provided during the festival.
"By the time they're done (maintenance crews), it's like the festival didn't even happen," Grisedale said.