Written by: Dominic Tartaglia, Executive Director
I like to think of Downtown as the living room of San Luis Obispo and our Downtown Association is the host. As a host we want our living room to be inviting and fun so that people leave with memories of a great experience. It is certainly necessary for us to advocate for clean streets, a strong mix of retail and hospitality, public safety and the overall promotion of our little district—but we also believe in putting on some of the best ongoing events in San Luis Obispo County. Playing host to these events often means that our staff gets to seek out local musicians and artists, local businesses, non-profits, kids groups, public agencies and members of the public to participate in events as small as Pumpkins on Parade in October all the way up to our Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market that happens every Thursday Night from 6–9PM. Sure it is hard work but it is absolutely worth it when we hear from people that they cannot wait to come back to visit us.
The Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market is one of our flagship events. It is a classic experience for many people who have heard about the open air street fair featuring local music, local flavors and local vendors which all blend together to create an experience that appeals to all of your senses. Just writing about the market recalls the smell of our barbeque and food vendors and the familiar sound of walking past Richie Begin playing his guitar while quite literally bumping into a friend and sharing a warm conversation. There is no doubt in my mind that I am not alone in my recollection of a typical night at the market, many residents and guests share similar experiences. Some of those experiences are much more dramatic and have lead to life changing decisions. SLO City Fire Chief Garret Olson recalls a dramatic story about being at the market with his wife considering a move to SLO. After laying eyes on the market, they both knew that this is where they wanted to call home. “The Market was our tipping point,” says Olson when asked about it.
Visiting this special event may have been a tipping point for the Olson family, but it’s also the catalyst for a thriving social activity and economic driver for the community each Thursday. The Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market offers many different flavors and interactions that at first glance may look odd grouped together. However, once the event kicks off at 6 o’clock it becomes very evident that the variety at the market is one of its most charming characteristics. Market goers pick their way through the booths at their own pace and have the freedom to choose which ones they stop at which makes their experience unique to them based on their personal taste and interests and with so much diversity, the combinations are endless. One week you can grab a rib while you make your way down to buy your veggies for the weekend and finish with a cookie and the next week you may start with clam chowder and end with a churro, not to mention a totally different variety of veggies. That being said, the market is so much more than food.
Market goers can come and be entertained for three hours and never spend a dime. While driving to the market will generally start your evening in a parking garage and could cost you up to $1.50 for three hours of parking (first hour is free), but by riding your bike to the market you can save that money by using the free SLO County Bicycle Coalition Bike Valet. After checking your bike in, you can visit upwards of 50-100 vendors and booths and find live entertainment on nearly every corner of the market. Entertainers include juggling acts, club events, musicians of all genres and our special promotional events like our upcoming Bunny Trail Downtown. Again, the combinations are endless and the entertainment is ever changing.
As previously mentioned, if you come to the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market on April 2nd you can watch local kids follow the Bunny Trail to get free candy and other fun goodies at local shops before a quick visit with the Downtown Bunny. This has become a tradition for many children and an experience that I hope families will remember for many years to come. While that is an example of one of our long-standing traditions, I am really excited to say that we are currently developing even more free experiences for market attendees.
In the works at this time is a plan for a “S.T.E.A.M. Alley” taken from the popular concept of Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics. Our goal is to have a section of the market every week that engages people with hands on displays and encourage playful minds to learn about everything from how solar energy works to fun things for children to play with and build. If you have an idea for an interactive STEAM booth, please don’t hesitate to let us know. We are open to a variety of ideas because ultimately we want this section of the market to be a fun, new event and it’s just a part of a few new additions to the market. Additions including a souped up Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market information booth, the ability to search for vendors on a web based map and search bar, and some fun, new market merchandise are all coming your way.
On April 9th we are kicking off some of those additions with a special event—the all-new Fresh Picked Concert Series. With the help of the San Luis Obispo Collection, the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association will host a monthly concert series featuring local artists playing on stage in the Union Bank parking lot through September. To lead off the Fresh Picked Concert Series we are lucky to have the Damon Castillo Band perform for us after a brief unveiling ceremony of our information booth at 6PM. Please keep your eyes open for more details and deals unique to our celebration of the market. This will certainly be a very special evening for us and we welcome you to join us and experience it for yourself, as this will be a market to remember.
On another note, I would like to offer congratulations to the 2015-2017 Board of Directors of the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association, which was announced last month. Among our new additions to the Board we welcome Aaron Gomez (Owner: The Gold Concept), Doug Shaw (Owner: The Sanctuary Tobacco Shop), John Spatafore (Owner: John Spatafore, Attorney at Law) and Therese Cron (Leasing/Marketing/Property Manager: Copeland Properties). I would also like to welcome back our re-elected members Josh Haring (Owner: The Mountain Air), our 2015-2016 Board President Gary Stevenson (President: Peak Property Management, Inc., The Wineman, Wineman GrillHaus) and our reappointed Past President Marshall Ochylski (Owner: Ochylski Law Firm). These seven members join our existing board comprised of Joanne Currie (Owner: Splash Cafe Seafood & Grill San Luis Obispo), Carl Dudley (VP / Senior Relationship Manager Pacific Western Bank), Jules DuRocher (Owner: Jules D.), Landy Fike (Retail Media Specialist: The Tribune), Kannyn January (Owner: Ambiance Boutique SLO), Amy Kardel (Owner: Clever Ducks), Erica Stewart (COO United Way of SLO County) and Kimberly Walker (Owner: Granada Hotel and Bistro). Congratulations to all of you new and returning Board Members, it is going to be a great year Around Downtown!