Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Behind the scenes: 15th annual Garland Street Fair on Saturday

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 9, 2017, 4:36 p.m.

How do you prepare for a party? You invite people you like, plan a tasty menu, select music and games, rearrange your space to accommodate everyone, keep to your budget, and scrub your bathroom. Right?

Now multiply all of that by 10,000 guests and you can begin to appreciate what it takes to host the Garland Street Fair on Saturday in northwest Spokane.

The blocks near the Garland Business District are a nostalgic mix of Craftsman homes, 1940s bungalows, and small post-war ranchers where neighbors know each other. Most of 80 businesses line a five-block strip of Garland Avenue between Madison and Howard streets. The area has a vintage feel in the merchant district, which features neon signs, a 1930s cafe, a building shaped like a milk bottle (1935), an art deco movie theater (1945), and a brick-patterned Masonic Temple (1922).

This one-day-only free event really begins the prior March when a planning committee of seven business owners reviews the previous street fair and refocuses on the next one. They divide large and small tasks among themselves. To accomplish a single task can take 80 hours, a dozen phone calls and emails, and multiple in-person contacts.

Garland Business District president Julie Shepard-Hall pointed to a wide map of vendor spaces. “In recent fairs we’ve shifted our focus to support local artists and artisans. I tell the artists, ‘Keep your prices under $80.’ We just want to support artists of all kinds.” The 48 vendors range from glassmakers, face painters, and tie-dye designers to potters, photographers and jewelers.

Another 100 spaces are designated for nonprofits and service groups, variety vendors, a kids’ area, and food trucks. A lot behind the Garland Theater is the hot spot to see 90-plus modified cars souped up for cruising.

The $24,000 budget is pulled together with contributions from the businesses, donations and space fees from vendors. The biggest expense is advertising through postcards, posters, banners, bus benches, billboards, signs, and radio and TV spots. The tab includes art design, production, and distribution or installation costs.

The next spendiest is payment for continuous entertainment on two stages, including stipends for 15 shifts of musicians and dancers. Other line items are insurance, security, generators, four sets of portable toilets, permits, awards and prizes, and barricade rental.

The best part is that they just about break even every year.

Proceeds from the children’s area and car show are donated to charities. Any other profit is plowed right back into operating expenses and upgrades to the district environment.

Kea Woodfill, a committee member and owner of an insurance agency, sees the fair’s success as longer term. “Profit is not the point. Some people think we’re making money hand-over-fist, but we are not.” She said the street fair’s biggest dividend is to build the customer base for year-round business.

The plan for the street fair depends solidly on dozens of volunteers to assist at the event. Resident Sandy Gill moved to the neighborhood in 1987. She’s raised her hand to help at the street fair for five years. She’s on deck at 5:45 a.m. on event day to set up detour signs and barricades, tents and tables. And she’s there at 10 p.m. to take it all down.

“It takes as many willing bodies as are available to get it all done,” Gill said. “The neighbors and businesses respect each other. We feel that, and having small business services within walking distance – we want to see more of that. The places we go know us by name, and we like that.”

Eight volunteer block captains field questions from visitors and attend to vendors’ needs. Youth groups Teen Challenge and Project ID Spokane spend the day hauling trash and cleaning up the area around the 30-yard-capacity dumpster.

The planning committee also engages district members to pitch in as needed. This year a church is loaning all its folding chairs, and the dry cleaners is storing them. Woodfill has 17 cases of bottled water stacked in her insurance office, and works at home with her husband in the evenings assembling craft materials for the kids’ area. Ten businesses offer up electrical outlets to supply vendors with power, and others equip the entertainment stages for the day with drum sets, music stands and audio equipment.

The district’s rapport with vendors extends its reputation in the greater community of small businesses.

“As a vendor I’d say that vendors appreciate the months of hard work that go into this event,” said Steve Riddle, a five-year veteran of the street fair. “Garland works with you, and they want all the vendors to do well. Having block captains is an efficient way to take care of vendors’ needs,” he said. “And you get to hear good music all day long.”

Amy Wycoff and her sister have operated Baja Babes Tacos for six years at the Garland Street Fair. They watched movies at the Garland Theater when they were children.

“It’s like coming back to a happy piece of our childhood, nostalgic,” Wycoff said. On the business side, Baja Babes sells at least $1,500 worth of shrimp tacos here every year. “We’re busy from the minute we open the window to the minute we close it.”

Now just hours from the fair’s opening, the planning committee is closing out all the last details. But committee chair Shepard-Hall is already streamlining the plan for next year. “We can do some things earlier, like booking our bands.”