The streets were pulsing with life as several hundred people strolled around downtown Saturday afternoon to let loose with a glass of wine – or two – at the third-annual Gilroy Art & Wine Stroll.
As a warm spring breeze drifted in, guests made their way through the strategically closed-off area of Monterey Street, stretching from Fourth Street to Seventh Street. Dotted with colorful art for sale, lively music, and people enjoying themselves, Monterey Street was arranged for a relaxing day in downtown. More than 750 tickets at $25 to $35 were sold – up from about 600 tickets last year.
This year, though, there was an emphasis on what downtown doesn’t have to offer.
Thanks to the “I Wish This Was” project, sponsored by local advocacy group Rally Round Downtown Gilroy, guests were invited to use their imaginations and suggest what kind of businesses they would like to see in the vacant buildings downtown.
Dozens of stickers were stuck on empty storefront windows, some suggesting ideas such as “bakery,” “teen center,” and “medicinal marijuana dispensary,” while another simply read “open.”
Volunteers passed out the red and white stickers and encouraged people to give suggestions for downtown’s 15 vacant buildings.
The project was the idea of Gary Walton, founder of Rally Round Downtown and local business enthusiast.
“I want a community that supports downtown, and the fact that they’re asking people for input here is fantastic,” said Shana Mickinnon, a Gilroy resident who said she loved the idea.
Artist Candy Chang came up with the idea originally while living in New Orleans in 2010. Walton said he was attracted to the idea because he believes that change can only happen if community members actively participate in contributing ideas.
“I think we should be having these discussions and really focusing on the community’s input, not just the city’s,” Walton said.
Turns out, Gilroy residents are screaming for ice cream: The No. 1 request written on the stickers was for an ice cream shop to open downtown, Walton said.
“We got some great, varied, suggestions from people,” Walton said.
People used all 250 stickers that Walton ordered, which pleased him. This week, Walton is working on compiling all of the suggestions in a spread sheet before he posts the results online on the city’s website and RallyRoundDowntownGilroy.com.
Mickinnon said events in downtown are ideal because they can attract people from outside Gilroy and show them a side of the city they may not have seen otherwise.
“They’re bringing people here that would normally just go to the Outlets or the Gilroy Gardens,” she said.
Melanie Corona, downtown business association coordinator, said next up on the calendar is the outdoor summer music series, “Fifth Street Live,” on Friday nights beginning July 5.
With all the suggestions coming in, Walton hopes that discussions about boosting downtown go even further and eventually get the attention of entrepreneurs and city planners who can make the ideas into a reality.
“It’s a great way to get your community involved and it seems to have struck a chord,” Walton said.
For Walton, this year’s wine stroll proved to be an excellent opportunity to showcase downtown, and incite visitor’s imagination about what it could be.
Fifteen local wineries camped inside 20 businesses as wine tasting stations, pouring all Saturday afternoon. The event is organized by the Downtown Business Association and wineries were invited to showcase their most popular wines, although they were not allowed to make any sales.
Sandy Riley of Satori Cellars Winery on Buena Vista Avenue in northeast Gilroy said despite not being able to sell wine, she expects the wine stroll will generate a lot of business in the future.
“We’re confident that people who were at the wine stroll will come check us out,” Riley said. “It’s all about exposure.”
As a participant in the wine stroll since the first year, Riley knew that sampling Satori’s gold-medal winning wines is the best way to entice people to visit their winery. People raved about Satori’s Petite Sirah, a bold red wine with intense flavor and color.
From whites to reds, the variety of wines certainly showed the diversity of the region. However that wasn’t the only thing on display.
As the event-goers made their way into each business for a tasting, they also got the opportunity to sample the city’s commerce up close and personal; from restaurants and antique stores, to its specialty stores, bakery, coffee shop and billiards.
Amber Madrone, president of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association and owner of Mango Street Kids, said the event is a great opportunity to let people see for themselves what downtown has to offer.
“Each event, people walk by and realize that they never knew this business was here,” she said.
This year was the first the city approved the closure of three blocks of Monterey Street for the wine stroll.
Madrone said the most important thing is showing people that they can have a good time in downtown – and the plan appeared to work.
“Everyone seems like they’re really enjoying themselves and that’s what we wanted,” she said.
The Gilroy Downtown Business Association hopes to create momentum with the wine stroll, so that future downtown events can bring even bigger crowds, as well as ideas, into the heart of the city.
“It brings in a lot of new people to the businesses that normally may not have come here, or may not have even known was here,” said Mike Broomfield, owner of the Vacuum Center. “It gives exposure and opportunity for the customers to come in and look around. You can’t beat that.”
Though the day was a busy one for him, he couldn’t have been happier.
“I haven’t been out of the store all day long, I had too many people in here all day, and it’s a good thing!”
Dispatch reporter Carly Gelsinger contributed to this story.