The Gilroy Garlic Festival’s 41st year was a year that the Garlic City can never forget, as the traumatic sights and sounds of the mass shooting in the festival’s final minutes still haunt Christmas Hill Park.
Planning for the 2019 festival a year ago began with the pressure to reverse the precipitous drop in attendance the year before, when the number of visitors dropped from more than 100,000 to 80,000 in 2018.
At year’s end, the non-profit association, buoyed by #GilroyStrong optimism, faced more pressure than at any point in its history.
Police and the FBI said this month they still were continuing their investigation of the “domestic terrorism” that claimed the lives of Stephen Romero, age 6; Keyla Salazar, age 13; and Trevor Deon Irby, age 25, and injured 14 others.
Many vendors were still recovering from the income loss caused by the freezing of their equipment behind yellow police tape for more than three weeks, and volunteers were still dealing with the post-traumatic stress of the blur and blood of a semi-automatic weapon.
Makeshift memorials, followed by a temporary-permanent memorial at the shooting site served as a grim reminder of the tragedy.
Then came the report that this year’s attendance numbers—unaffected by the shooting because it occurred in the last half-hour of the event—showed only a slight uptick in 2019, to 83,000. The festival also reported increases in gross income and in payouts to volunteers over 2018.
The optimism of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association’s announcement in October that the festival would return to Christmas Hill Park in 2020 was dampened by the filing of a lawsuit against the association in November by five of the shooting survivors, based on allegations that the festival had failed to provide adequate security.
Then Garlic Festival executive director Brian Bowe announced in December he would be leaving by February, after leading the non-profit for nearly 14 years. Finding a successor for Bowe while picking up the pieces of the 2019 tragedy will test each member of the association board in 2020.