Changes coming to Arroyo Grande Strawberry Festival, including possible new date and location

Expect smaller event beginning next year

Changes coming to Arroyo Grande Strawberry Festival including possible new date and location

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. - Big changes are coming to the Arroyo Grande Strawberry Festival.

"It definitely will continue," said Gaea Powell, Arroyo Grande Village Association Executive Director. "It just won't be the giant festival that it was."

Starting next year, the popular event will modify in size and scope.

"Just dialing it down and making it much more quaint and respecting the fact that our village is tiny little village and the impact that it has can be kind of overwhelming," said Powell. "A lot of the merchants can't stay open because there's such an overwhelming amount of people and these are small, little mom-and-pop shops," said Powell.

Powell added the financial sustainability of the festival had become an issue.

"It cost a lot of money to put on an event that large," said Powell. "This last year it was really obvious it wasn't ever going to pick up the same momentum that it had."

Organizers also had safety concerns for visitors, especially coming in the aftermath of the recent shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July.

"We really don't have the type of security to really feel like  we can make everyone safe," said Powell.

Moving forward, Powell said there is a plan in the works that will "re-image" what the festival looks like.

Although no final decisions have been made, it is likely the festival will move off of East Branch Street, where it has been held since its inception.

Possible sites include the area around the Arroyo Grande Swinging Bridge in Olohan Alley, including Centennial Park and Heritage Square Park, located across Arroyo Grande Creek.

The festival could also be cut in half, moving from two days, down to just one.

Powell added it is likely to move away from its traditional spot on the calendar during Memorial Day weekend.

"We're not sure yet," Powell responded when asked when it would held. "I can't definitively say that, but from the feedback from the merchants and the folks that live here, it would be best if it wasn't that weekend. I would assume it would be close to Memorial Day weekend. It would be something that would kind of launch summer."

For business owners in the Village, reaction to the proposed changes are mixed.

"I actually wish the Strawberry Festival could stay as is," said The Green Room Owner ​​​​​Renee Westerhuis, who has owned the longtime haircutting salon since 1988. "As a local business here in Village, I do close my salon during the festival, as I won't get business. Getting people out of their cars and walking the Village, I always people who come back and say that they saw my shop because they were here walking around the Village."

However, some owners believe now is the time for a change.

"I think that it's kind of a good move for the Village," said Cafe Andreini owner Denise Andreini. "The impact during the three-day holiday is pretty big, especially on the businesses here in the Village. We love having the out-of-town visitors here at the cafe and in the Village, but I think it's kind of outgrown itself over the years."

With a different Strawberry Festival likely coming in the future, there will also be a greater focus placed on current events being held in the Village, as well as potential new ones.

Up next, the Harvest Festival and Parade is coming at the end of the month, set for Sept. 27-28. The Arroyo Grande Beer Feast is coming up on Oct. 12.

"There's just some potential to do some really fun things in the Village that will bring our community together. I think that's where we need to go as a small town, just do some really fun stuff that brings us all together," said Andreini.

"I think more events in the Village is great because I like the exposure, even I said I do have to close for the day, but I would like the additional events, along with keeping the Strawberry Festival the same size that it is and just leaving that along," said Westerhuis.

The Arroyo Grande Village Association hopes to have a date selected within the next two months.

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