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Loss of street fair has Garland pondering next step

March 25, 2019 GMT

When the Garland Street Fair first began 16 years ago, Tom Ritchie, owner of The Milk Bottle and More, remembers that only a few local businesses and the surrounding neighborhood participated.

Last year’s street fair drew about 14,000 attendees, vendors from all over the city lining the streets. He said the restaurant can serve up to 400 people on a normal day, but during the street fair, it serves about 3,000.

“It was weird how it grew,” he said.

Now that this year’s street fair has been canceled, Ritchie and other local businesses owners hope that someone will step up and continue to host summer events for the district.

“It’s a heartbreak, really,” he said. “It brings that energy to the Garland district.”

Garland Street Fair organizer Julie Shepard-Hall said the event had grown so large, it was difficult for volunteers to manage, and she needed a break.

“My heart just kind of cringes, because I know how much people love it, and I know how much the vendors make from it,” she said.

Attendees were greeted by live music, dancers, vendors and last year, anti-abortion as well as animal rights protesters.

Last year’s fair cost about $24,000 and took months to organize.

While many retailers and restaurants said the festival gave them a bump in business, many other service-based businesses in the district said the street fair didn’t benefit them.

Carrie Allen, owner of First Impressions salon, said the salon usually closes during the fair because of the lack of parking. She said she doesn’t mind closing for one day because it doesn’t heavily affect her business, but she understands the frustration other service-based businesses may have over parking and crowds.

“Unless you’re retail-based, it’s not a really happening thing for you,” she said.

The biggest loss to the Garland Business District may be the influx of people from across the entire city, said Karin Degner, owner of Book Traders. The increased visibility and foot traffic past all the Garland businesses, she said, is worth the inconveniences, like crowds, parking and dozens of vendor booths.

She usually attends for the sales that happen during the festival, and for her 3-year-old son, but she knows many people in the area have special memories connected to it.

“It’s part of our community, it’s been around so long, it’s the only time you see some of those things, at the Garland Street Fair,” she said.

Sam Barton, an employee at Flawless Lashes and street fair attendee, said she was sad that festivals like the fair, First Night Spokane and Elkfest are ending, because those events helped Spokane feel like a small town, despite how much it has grown. Barton said that without its free community events, she’s afraid the area will lose its rural vibe and feel like Seattle.

“It takes away that small-town feel for Spokane,” she said.

After the fair was canceled, Shepard-Hall said several community members approached her about helping her organize it, and future versions of the street fair could be smaller, spread-out events.

Ritchie said the Milk Bottle’s bottom line will be fine, even without a street fair, but the festival is part of the area’s identity and other events in the area, like the Winter Wonderland on Garland, don’t compare.

“I hope eventually, somebody continues it,” he said.

Reporter Will Campbell contributed to this story.