Grand Avenue Festival
Street fairs can be a tricky proposition for the brick-and-mortar businesses along the streets where the fairs are held. 

The outdoor flea-market style events drive thousands of people to local streets for the vendors, food, music acts, and activities, but street vendors - not the shops - historically benefit from the foot traffic.

In Downtown Escondido, a small, but significant change to its semi-annual Grand Avenue Festival has made the street fair a win-win for local businesses and outdoor vendors alike.

An exciting change in layout is coming to this year's Grand Avenue Festival

Rather than lining the streets with vendors in front of the businesses, which is usually the case at street fairs, the fair's organizers moved the booths to both sides of the center median running down Grand Avenue between Centre City Parkway and Ivy Street, leaving the sidewalks and storefronts visible to visitors.

Grand Avenue Festival organizers piloted the change at the October 2018 installment to rave reviews and record sales days from shops and restaurants. They are ready for an even bigger reception at the spring installment on Sunday, May 19.

"We found it to be a huge success and a welcomed relief for a lot of businesses," said Chris Cochran, marketing and development director for the Escondido Chamber of Commerce. "Our goal now is to have that redesign in perpetuity. We're not going back to the old way."

How successful was the new setup? Just ask Ray Alto, owner of La Tapatia Mexican restaurant, which sits near the western edge of the festival between Orange Street and Escondido Boulevard. 

Alto's restaurant got so busy during the October Grand Avenue Festival, that they ran out of many items on the menu.

"Carne asada burritos were really popular that day, and by the afternoon, we couldn't make anymore," Alto said. "When the booths were on the sidewalks, people couldn't walk through, so we were covered up. By putting them in the middle of the street, the sidewalk was open and a lot of business came our way. It was one of our best days ever."

Alto wasn't alone: Cochran said that Susy Q's Diner, Rosie's Cafe, Plan 9 Alehouse and several other businesses also posted record sales days.

"It was a huge success that was welcomed by the Downtown Business Association and its merchants," Cochran said.

Alex MacLachlan is the president of the Escondido Downtown Business Association, which represents the historic core's merchants. 

MacLachlan said the association has spread the word to businesses about the new-found opportunity at their quarterly merchant meetings and through other communications. 

Some businesses would shutter their doors during the festival, concerned they would lose money staying open, MacLachlan said. Now, however, businesses are seeing opportunities with the sidewalks open and their storefronts visible. 

"We let them know that it's a good chance to reach out to new customers and to find ways to attract attention to their businesses," MacLachlan said. "We advocate for the merchants, and part of that is to let them know that this is going on, so we are still trying to get the world out that this is a big opportunity twice a year to get new customers and hopefully repeat business."

The revamped format has been in the works since 2017 when the business association and Chamber of Commerce approached the fair's contract operator, Kennedy and Associates, with the idea, which MacLachlan said drew out of inspiration from the Adams Avenue Street Fair in San Diego.

"We wanted to make it a positive for our merchants and we experienced that at the Adams festival, where we saw ice cream shops, restaurants, and other merchants participating, doing displays out on the sidewalk," MacLachlan said. "It was a good vibe and really easy for us to do that in Escondido, and we felt it would be super positive for the merchants when they got used to it and trusted that it would be a good opportunity for them."

To accomplish the logistical shift, the organizers got approval from the city to expand the street closure from Juniper to Ivy Street to the east and close a segment of Escondido Boulevard and Broadway. 

The new format is also a hit with the vendors, Cochran said: the Chamber Commerce has received 50 more vendor requests than the previous installment in the fall.

"It's growing, and I think a lot of people are excited about the direction in which the fair is headed," he said. 

The Grand Avenue Festival, previously known as the Grand Avenue Street Faire, is rooted in a pair of longtime festivals that occurred in the city's historic downtown - a fall arts fair run by the city and the Felicita Foundation and a spring festival put on by the business association. 

When the city and foundation turned their attention towards completing the California Center for the Arts, they turned to the Chamber of Commerce to keep their fair going. And in the early 1990s, a city committee recommended the chamber and business association merge the two events into the semi-annual affair that continues to this day.

Today, visitors - organizers expect as many as 25,000 over the course of the day - can walk up and down six blocks of historic Escondido, perusing and shopping more than 400 vendors for unique hand-crafted gifts and imports, enjoying international cuisine and catching local entertainment on the Maple Street Plaza and Chase Bank lawn stages. 

For the kids, there's the Creative Kids Corner at Juniper & Grand, and fine arts aficionados can enjoy the Art in the Garden at Heritage Garden.  And for the furry, four-legged friend, there are the Dogs on the Lawn at the Chase lawn area on Grand & Orange, where dogs - and their two-legged companions - can compete in contests to win some fantastic prizes provided by PetSmart Escondido.

And of course, on either side of Grand and along the street fair route are the businesses - doors wide open, ready and inviting customers to enjoy downtown.

A family brings its furry friends to the pet-friendly festival

If you go:

Sunday, May 19
9 a.m. to  5 p.m. 

Details: The Grand Ave Festival, Escondido, takes place in our historic downtown on Grand Ave from Center City to Ivy. You'll be able to shop from hundreds of vendors for unique hand-crafted gifts and imports, and enjoy international cuisine, local entertainment, and much more! Such as the Creative Kids Corner at Juniper & Grand, and Art in the Garden at Heritage Garden! And be sure to bring your furry, four-legged friend to the Chase lawn area (Grand & Orange) for the Dogs On The Lawn contests to win some fantastic prizes provided by PetSmart Escondido!

Events all summer

Please make sure to visit the Visit Escondido special events calendars for the latest happenings in Escondido, including these upcoming events:

San Dieguito River Park 30th Anniversary Run, Tot Trot, and Fair
Sunday, June 9, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 
Sikes Historical Adobe Farmstead

The San Dieguito River Park JPA is celebrating 30 years of environmental preservation, recreation, and education. Join us for the San Dieguito River Park 15k / 5k / 1k / Tot Trot trail runs!  Race will be held on trails that are mostly flat with some rolling hills. Courses are a mixture of trails, sidewalk, and hard pack dirt trails. Both events in partial view of Lake Hodges and the beautiful San Dieguito River Park area. 5 Years and under FREE with parent entered.

56th Annual Independence Day Festival & Fireworks
Thursday, July 4, 2019 at 4 p.m. 
Grape Day Park & The Center's Great Green

This free community event features rockin' live music, fabulous food vendors, and a wealth of children's activities and games for everyone to enjoy. The day's festivities will conclude with a special performance by the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band and, of course, dazzling fireworks display starting at 9:00 p.m. You won't want to miss this annual North County tradition!

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