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Street fair cancellations in Nevada City, Grass Valley a huge economic hit

2) Kelly Patton reacts as she meets friends at the Make Local Habit booth on Pine Street during the final Summer Nights of the 2019 season. She is holding a parasol made by local artist Lord Von Schmitt.

For many visitors, events such as Cornish Christmas and Summer Nights are their first introduction — and sometimes only recurring interaction — with Grass Valley and Nevada City, and even Nevada County as a whole.

The street fairs that populate the two downtowns are symbiotic, pumping money into the pockets not just of the artisans and other vendors who participate, but the surrounding businesses as well.

In Grass Valley, the farmers’ market at South Auburn and Neal streets was postponed this year, as were the Grass Valley Car Show and Grass Valley BrewFest. The Thursday Night Market was slated to start June 25 and run through July, and probably will be canceled or at least highly truncated.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Cornish Christmas will be affected, said Grass Valley Downtown Association Executive Director Marni Marshall.

Similarly, Nevada City has had to cancel First Friday Artwalk and postpone Village Market Day to Sept. 13. Summer Nights has been postponed with no start date set, said Nevada City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Whittlesey.

“Social distancing is the problem,” Whittlesey said. “People are hopeful we can do something, maybe in October.”

At this point, even Victorian Christmas is in the air.

“That is our signature event, it is huge for our town,” Whittlesey said, adding, “We will work with (any necessary) restrictions — but I don’t know how it’s going to work.”

The need to cancel most of those events through the usually lucrative summer season is causing no small amount of stress, both mental and financial.

“This has been incredibly difficult for vendors as event after event gets postponed or canceled,” Marshall said. “Putting on events takes months of planning and fundraising, and with no mass gatherings being allowed at this time, it’s hard to even set a date for when an event can resume.”

The Thursday Night Market brings in approximately $45,000 as a part of the association’s annual revenue stream, Marshall said.

“While we do receive Business Improvement District Assessment funds from businesses downtown, those assessments account for a third of our annual income, with the rest made up of revenue from events and sponsorships that pay to put on events and carry out the work we do,” she said. “We have had to lay off staff and reduce hours like so many other businesses as we look for ways to fund operations.”

Events like street fairs would be in Stage 4 of reopening, Marshall noted, with social distancing required, including at least six feet between vendors.

“Canceled events are truly a huge impact on vendors,” she said. “For some it is their full-time job and they plan a year of events. For others it may be a part time job. For some it is as much about the outreach and feedback as it is the money.”


Some vendors are simply writing the year off, while others are turning to alternative sources to market their wares.

Esmeralda Jones’ fledgling business, Olivia Luna Clothing, was just getting off the ground before the pandemic.

“I was stoked to have a local fair to try to get some income and help pay bills,” she said. “This year, I’m not even thinking about it.”

Even if Summer Nights gets off the ground later this year, Jones said, she can’t afford the booth fee.

“It’s crazy times,” she said. “I don’t know what the future is holding for all of us. It’s going to be hard.”

Longtime Summer Nights vendor Jim Candelaria is planning on taking his business, Sierra Jewelers, wholesale.

“All my festivals are gone, with our income,” he said, adding his mother taught him to save for a rainy day. “We’re reinventing ourselves.”

Candelaria said he used to work about 35 festivals a year, traveling the entire West Coast. Normally, he would have been at the Renaissance Faire in Oroville this last weekend, then would have headed to South Lake Tahoe before setting up at a weekly artisan-focused market in Truckee through the summer.

“You just can’t get upset,” he said. “You’ve got to go with the flow. … Hopefully, it will work out.”

Marshall highlighted the efforts of Rebound Nevada County, saying the goal is to get 50 businesses online by Monday.

“Some of our craft vendors went for it and (have) completed the one-week-long (marketing) class,” she said.

Carol Crockett and her partner, Wayne Olts, sell their high-end Crockett Tiles at local music festivals and at the farmers’ markets. But, Crockett said, the custom work they get from those contacts is their “bread and butter.”

“A lot of what we do is custom work — back splashes, things like that,” she said. “What happens is, people come in (to the booth) and say, ‘Oh, I need to re-do my kitchen or I need a sign for my business.’”

Crockett has always valued the exposure to the local community, adding, “We really want our business to stay local. That’s our niche.”

The couple typically plans out the entire year, including production, based on the events at which they sell.

“All of that is gone,” Olts said. “It’s been a real blow.”

Crockett saw an article in The Union about the Rebound Nevada County class and signed up immediately, she said. She currently is “hustling” to make the Monday date of having her website up and running.

“We are in process of ongoing consulting, which is a really wonderful service,” Olts said. “We are struggling to transition into an e-commerce platform to get our work out there. We’re novices, so it’s a benefit, to get the expertise of others.”

Another, very tangible benefit, Crockett said, was being part of a community of small business owners in Nevada County.

“We’re all going through the same struggles,” she said. “It lifted our spirits.”


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Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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