If you long for the days of the simple country street fair, perhaps a visit to the Vista Main Street Festival and Farmer's Market will rekindle some fond memories.
Every Thursday night between mid-April and December, several blocks of East Vista Way close to automobiles and become overrun with pedestrian traffic. The street festival, organized by the Vista Town Center Assn., is in its fourth year. When it started in the fall of 1986, it ran for 10 weeks and attracted no more than 1,500 people at a time. Today, the fair draws 5,000 to 7,500 people, and some are coming regularly from south Orange and Riverside counties.
In addition to 35 booths for farmers, there are 75 to 85 other vendors who sell jewelry, clothing, country crafts, woodwork and art. Services offered include blood-pressure checks, face painting, cosmetics, diet and health aids, and chiropractic assistance. The fair offers 15 food booths with both popular and specialized tastes in mind, ranging from Thai food to rhubarb pie.
There is live entertainment and, for children, an inflated covered mat to play on, "Pop-Shot" basketball shooting, and ceramics painting supplied by the shop "Kids N' Paint."
Some merchants who started out with small booths at the festival have gone on to establish storefront businesses, according to Vicki Barringer of the association.
"More and more merchants are beginning to understand the theater market concept," Barringer said. "This festival is mainly for downtown merchants to get acquainted with another segment of business. They can be exposed to several thousand people on a Thursday night, while they'll maybe only see a hundred during the day."
Barringer, who has directed the program since 1987, is pleased with its progress.
"We recently did a survey of people attending. In addition to folks from Vista, we found a strong mix of people from surrounding communities," she said. "People said that they really liked the social atmosphere. And we have a large return crowd--every two to three weeks, on average."
Vendors and customers chat amiably on a first-name basis, and certain regulars have developed nicknames, such as the Strawberry Lady, reputed by festival-goer Sheryl Hunt to have the best selection of strawberries in town.
Jenny Sharpel, promotions coordinator for the festival, wears a big red crab hat to each street festival, and is known as the Crab Lady. Her job is to provide a good mixture of booths and activities. Prospective vendors must fill out a detailed application and meet with Sharpel to discuss their business proposition.
"We have some turnover, but a lot of vendors are the same ones that started with us four years ago," said Barringer. There is also room for some new exhibitors, she said. "If it's a unique item, we may be able to get it in within a month, depending upon turnover."
Barringer and Sharpel want to see a market environment for the festival that will keep people excited about what is offered and anxious to come back.
VISTA MAIN STREET FESTIVAL AND FARMER'S MARKET
East Vista Way, between South Santa Fe and Citrus avenues
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, April through December
Special Events: September Heritage Festival; October Harvest Festival. Last Thursday of October is "Safe Trick O' Treat" night for children.