Garlic Festival: ‘Massive’ events no longer realistic

Association hopes smaller events continue big impact

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tom cline gilroy garlic festival drive-thru gilroy presbyterian church
Tom Cline of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association (right) hangs out in one of the food tents during the drive-thru Gourmet Alley experience at Gilroy Presbyterian Church in July 2021. Photo: Juan Reyes

The Gilroy Garlic Festival will not host its traditional event this year or for the “foreseeable future,” organizers announced this week.

A series of smaller, more intimate events still on tap for 2022 aim to bring the festival back to its roots and turn the primary focus back on its original mission: to celebrate garlic and the people behind it while giving back to the community.

In a statement, Garlic Festival Association Past President Tom Cline and Vice President-Elect Cindy Fellows cited “lingering uncertainties” from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as “prohibitive insurance requirements by the City of Gilroy.”

“Obviously, we are left frustrated and disappointed,” the statement read. “Our world-renowned festival has helped showcase Gilroy and the South County for 42 years while raising many millions of dollars for local charities.”

Cline said the Garlic Festival Association, now an all-volunteer organization, received no revenue since the start of the pandemic in early 2020 to July 2021, when it hosted a series of events.

Before that, the association was losing money for roughly a decade, due to rising costs that included bussing attendees into Christmas Hill Park when the Glen Loma Ranch development took over a vacant lot previously used for parking.

According to financials released by the festival in late 2019, the association donated $250,000 to 155 local charities and nonprofit organizations that year. However, while gross income increased slightly to $3.08 million, the festival lost about $100,000, in addition to $400,000 in 2018.

Insurance premiums have skyrocketed in recent years, making them unrealistic for the festival, according to Cline. And that’s on top of the challenges of finding a company willing to insure, which Cline said the festival was unable to do so due to dwindling options as many companies are ditching California because of wildfire risk.

The City of Gilroy requires special events to have a minimum general liability coverage of $1 million for any events happening on city property.

Cline said that although the association does have coverage of $1 million, the city is requiring “much more” for the festival.

Further complicating matters, the association is among the defendants named in a series of lawsuits following the 2019 shooting at the festival that left three dead and 17 others injured. The cases continue to wind through the court system.

The association had already been discussing how to reimagine the festival prior to 2019. Now, it’s going all-in on its evolution.

“The festival is part of our heritage,” the statement from Cline and Fellows reads. “Now we must ensure that it is part of our future. While it will never be the massive event of the past, a more intimate, local festival can still allow us to celebrate the community, garlic and all it inspires.”

The second annual Garlic Festival golf tournament is scheduled for June 24 at the Gilroy Golf Course.

That will be followed by a country music concert at Clos LaChance Winery on July 13, and a farm-to-table dinner in September.

Information about tickets and sponsorship opportunities for the events are expected to go live soon at gilroygarlicfestivalassociation.com.

Fellows said the introduction of smaller events in 2021 was a success for the association, and the organization hopes to expand on that for 2022.

She noted that although the events will be smaller than the massive festivals of the past, they still contain all the elements that made the festival what it is: good food for a good cause in a family-friendly environment.

“Everyone focuses on what we had been,” Cline said. “Scaling it back takes nothing away from the impact it’s had on the community. It’s a treasure. It’s a family reunion for so many people. Why can’t we have it in a more intimate setting?”Festival organizers are appealing to the community for ideas and support on how to continue the festival’s mission into the future. For contact information, visit gilroygarlicfestivalassociation.com.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.