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Economy trips up municipal parades

March 17, 2009|Bob Pool
  • William Lomas' Pageantry Productions used to stage a parade a week in Los Angeles-area communities. "A parade is totally free ... it's the best value for the family."
William Lomas' Pageantry Productions used to stage a parade a week… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Maybe they'll take to the streets to celebrate when the current recession ends and the economy bounces back.

But for now, cities across Southern California are commemorating the financial meltdown by scaling back and even canceling parades and street festivals that over the years have become annual community traditions.

In cities such as Carson, Pico Rivera and Paramount, annual parades have been canceled. Jurupa killed its community rodeo, and Norco canceled its Western Art Show. Santa Clarita's community symphony canceled its season. Other parades and festivals are being scaled back.

The hardest hit have been small towns with limited municipal budgets and a narrow base of potential sponsors.

For Bellflower, where city employees have taken 12-day unpaid furloughs because of what officials have characterized as a "serious economic crisis," its parade had been a 30-year tradition.

"Our Liberty Day Parade was held in October as part of the city's anniversary celebration," said Bellflower City Manager Michael J. Egan. "We've had to lay off a lot of part-time employees, so, honestly, canceling the parade wasn't that difficult."

Many of the 77,110 who live in the 52-year-old city -- which was named after the belle fleur apple trees that once grew abundantly there -- said they will miss the parade.

"I've seen it many times. It's nice to have it, but the way things are going if we have to miss a year, I guess that's OK. But I'd like to see it come back. It's good for kids and for the community," said James Lapiana, a restaurant manager whose two children have marched in the parade with the Mayfair High School band.

In Pico Rivera, officials have been forced to shelve the annual Fourth of July Festival, which was to have featured community booths, a concert and a fireworks show in the city's Smith Park.

Bob Spencer, a city spokesman, said Pico Rivera is hoping to stage a smaller Independence Day event, perhaps with a carnival and a laser light show. Event planning experts say such economizing is becoming common, with some communities retaining their parades but trimming the spending on them by up to 50%.

In these tough times, some lament that cheap family entertainment is in short supply.

"A parade is totally free. Every person in the community can sit on the curb and watch two hours of free entertainment. It's the best value for the family," said veteran parade organizer William Lomas.

For 52 years Lomas has run Pageantry Productions, a Lynwood-based company that in the past would stage a parade a week in Los Angeles-area communities.

Many communities determined to stage their traditional parades no matter what are being forced to lower their sights. Last week, Lomas conferred with a Westside group planning an Independence Day parade about doing away with the judging of parade entries, which would save about $2,000.

The cutbacks are being reflected in things such as fewer marching band units.

"We're having to pay for bands' buses because schools can't afford a bus," Lomas said. "Kids can only sell so many chocolate bars. Kids need a place to perform and practice their musical skills. Otherwise, they lose interest in band."

Many longtime corporate sponsors -- particularly banks -- are afraid of appearing to donate to frivolous activities in this financial climate.

Typical "hometown" parades cost about $30,000 to produce, including insurance, permits and labor, according to Lomas. A larger, longer parade can run about $60,000, and "specialty" parades -- such as those marking a city's major anniversary -- can cost as much as $110,000.

Loss of traditional funding is forcing organizers of such events as Philadelphia's New Year's Day Mummers Parade to hurriedly line up alternative financing.

Even festivals that charge admission are trying innovative approaches. Organizers of next month's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival offered an advance layaway plan for concert-goers who needed to spread out the cost of a $269 three-day pass into three payments. Last weekend's Irish Fair and Music Festival in Pomona lowered its admission fee from $18 to $16 because of the tight economy.

Half a dozen companies and several city departments are helping underwrite Los Angeles' St. Patrick's Day Parade today along Main, Arcadia and 5th streets.

Lomas said his company is seeking financing for this year's Christmas parade in Hollywood now that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce no longer underwrites or produces the event.

"We need to be positive," he added.


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