We can’t help thinking of Gertrude Stein’s sentiment about trying to find her old Oakland home, “There’s no there there,” as we drive into Gilroy.
Not that that’s no there here. There’s plenty of there here. We’ve got agriculture, amazing shopping, wineries, a theme park, and more antique stores, great Mexican restaurants and hair salons than almost anywhere. But how would you know it if you were visiting for the first time, or anytime?
If you drive east or west into town along Highway 152, there’s nothing, zilch, to tell you where you are. Head up or down Highway 101 and it’s the same. There are some exit signs, letting you know the streets and the word Gilroy—but where is the pride in letting people know what we have that is special?
For contrast, pull into Reno and see the colorful declaration: “The Biggest Little City in the World.” Enter Castroville and see its proclamation: “Artichoke Center of the World.” Even too-cool-for-school Santa Cruz has a misguided sign on its northside, boasting in sapphire blue: River Street. No one is quite sure what purpose it serves, but the people there at least bothered to spend the money to let tourists know there’s more in town than the Beach Boardwalk.
And Morgan HIll, don’t get us started. They don’t have big, prideful signs, but they do have wonderful smaller brown ones directing you to city hall, the transit center, the sad, almost empty courthouse and the history museum. We’ve got a history museum too. Can you find the sign that directs you there?
So, what can we think of to celebrate Gilroy? Well, we are the Garlic Capital of the World. Why wouldn’t we be proud of it?
Okay, there are some nice banners downtown, boasting of our “Gilroy, Celebrating the Spice,” and “Gilroy Celebrating the Arts.” But tourists first have to find their way downtown to even know the place exists, not an easy task with so few signs.
Gilroy should build on its strength and develop its brand, just as Christopher Ranch has done for years, putting a logo on its boxes that says, “Do you know where your garlic is grown?” We’re missing a real opportunity to let people know we’re proud of the town and proud of our crops and food and wine and events and parks and they should stop by, spend some time and dollars here.
While we’re on the subject, we have the great Lumination display at Gilroy Gardens, but you’d never know it downtown. We’ve seen some placards for it at the Outlets, but nothing to tie the exhibit—which hopes to attract 250,000 visitors—to the city. Why are there no signs pointing visitors from Lumination to restaurants and shops? How about a chain of lanterns leading cars back downtown? Just a thought. What about decorating downtown with Chinese lanterns, which we’ve heard that one community business member wanted to do?
What about a billboard on Highway 101 guiding southbound newcomers to bargain shopping on the left and homespun shopping on the right. What about garlic tastings, like wine tastings, downtown? Oaxaca, a Mexican city known for its mole sauce, has tastings every Friday that draws hundreds of tourists into shops.
What about taking some elements of the annual garlic festival and keeping them going year-round, like a booth with garlic ice cream for tourists to try?
We’d like to see some of the same ingenuity that made the three-day garlic festival internationally known turned toward the other 362 days of the year, to let people know more about the here here.