Crowded success in downtown

Audette Sophia led by Jim Murdoch as Jimbo the Clown parade

The inaugural downtown Mushroom Mardi Gras was a hit.
Morgan Hill – The inaugural downtown Mushroom Mardi Gras was a hit.

Although downtown’s streets were more crowded than the open spaces at Community Park where the event has been held for decades, the 26th annual festival drew rave reviews from organizers, vendors, and especially visitors, all getting used to the new location. Mild temperatures in the low 80s plus a light breeze kept the crowded downtown pleasant.

In fact, crowding was almost the only criticism heard from anyone, especially those familiar with the wider expanse of Community Park.

Jonathan Burnham, 13, said he thought the festival was crowded.

“You have to walk single file to get anywhere,” he said.

The 26th annual festival was moved to Monterey Road between Main and Dunne avenues because construction has begun on the city’s new Indoor recreation center adjacent to the park. The Mardi Gras used the previously vacant lot for parking.

“We far over-exceeded our expectations,” said festival organizer Sunday Minnich said of the turnout. “Our count showed about 40,000 people during the two days.” Past festivals have drawn between 30,000 and 40,000.

Downtown is the Mardi Gras’ fourth location in its 26 years. The former Hill Country golf course and toursit complex on Foothill Road (now The Math Institute’s golf course) was its first home. Outgrowing Hill Country, the festival moved to a vacant lot at Cochrane Road and Monterey Road that proved to windy and dusty, before moving to Community Park.

Mardi Gras Board President Dan Sullivan, too, was happy with the results.

“It went extremely well and we have very positive feedback from craft and food vendors – even the downtown merchants,” Sullivan said.

Restaurant owners had been worried that their patrons would be chased away since the streets were closed to traffic at 7pm Friday night and stayed closed through the weekend. Rosy Bergin, owner of the popular Rosy’s at the Beach, said business inside was slow Sunday until about 1pm.

“Then the crowds arrived and didn’t let up until 9pm,” Bergin said. “We appreciate that they didn’t close Monterey until later in the day, allowing people to reach us,” she said. “Saturday night was dead (highly unusual) but there was enough business during the day to make up for it.”

Rosy had lined her sidewalk with tables, picket fences and a palm draped bar; empty seats were few.

Sullivan did not know how much the festival earned, but between the generous sponsors, including The Ford Store and Kitchen Works, donations from community members and selling out vendor spaces, he expects to earn what the organization needs for next year’s college scholarships, the point of the festival.

George Cheng, selling his delicate landscape watercolors, said he preferred downtown to the park.

“There are more people and it’s such a beautiful day,” Cheng said. “I’ll be back next year.”

That, Minnich said, is what most vendors told her.

“One man sold out on Saturday and several others on Sunday,” she said. “Almost everybody I talked to wants to be asked back next year.”

Brett Welch said the location couldn’t have been better.

“I’ve been talking to visitors as they stop by, and it seems people like the location,” he said.

Welch, who was working one of the beer tents on Saturday, said the flow of visitors had been steady and that he hadn’t heard many complaints about the close quarters.

Lines at the food court were long, as they are every year.

A dining area set up on East Third Street under a large tent was filled both days; many diners sat on the curbs or in the driveways or sidewalks of nearby businesses.

Sig Nin, who lives in Woodland Acres, said, while downtown was nice, he preferred the park.

“I liked Community Park better,” Nin said. “It is such a beautiful setting.” He did not mind that, because this year’s Mardi Gras was free, there was no headliner band. There was plenty of music with attentive, avid audiences.

Minnich said if the Mardi Gras is held downtown again in 2006 organizers will try to expand out to ease the crowding.

“You always learn a lot the first time you try anything,” she said.

While Minnich takes credit for the organizing the event, she heaped praise on her volunteers and the MMG board.

“I can’t believe the volunteerism the Mushroom Mardi Gras brings out,” she said. “And this is the best board I’ve ever worked with.”

Most visitors and vendors agreed that whatever the problems or pleasures with the new location, the food lived up to its usual standards.

“Mushroom Mardi Gras is delicious,” said 15-year-old Eric Medina-Verbeek of Morgan Hill, munching on fried calamari.

Carol Holzgrafe covers City Hall for The Times. Reached her at 779-4106 Ext. 201 or at [email protected] Marilyn Dubil covers education and law enforcement for The Times. Reach her at 779-4106 Ext. 202 or at [email protected]

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