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Behind the scenes of Fallbrook's "big show" - what it takes to produce the Avocado Festival, coming Sunday, April 13

 

Last updated 4/10/2014 at Noon

At the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce office, from left, Lila MacDonald, CEO; Linda Costello, administrative and media coordinator, and Jackie Toppin, membership services coordinator, display items that will be available in the chamber

Throwing a special event with a guest list of 70,000 is not an easy task. Fallbrook’s signature annual event, the Avocado Festival, takes a full year of planning and collaboration on behalf of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce to produce.

“It’s a team effort,” said chamber CEO Lila MacDonald. “We have two co-chairs this year, George Archibald (one of the original founders) and Gary Shimer, in addition to a committee of over 25 people to help with all aspects of festival planning. Also, even more volunteers help with sub-committees and those can contain an additional two to 25 people per subcommittee.”

This year's festival takes place Sun., April 13, and planning for it began at last year's event.

“On the day of the festival, we give each vendor a ‘speedy renewal’ form which allows them to sign up for the next year and receive a discount,” said MacDonald. “About 50 percent take advantage of this, which means we are already half-full for the next year.”

Logistical plans and needed supplies are many when it comes to the big event.

“We have to plan for street closures, barricades, generators, power cords, canopies, getting vendors unloaded and loaded into their spots, shuttles, trash cans, chemical toilets, tables, chairs, and much more,” explained MacDonald. Organizations and agencies like the Fallbrook Amateur Radio Club, Sheriff’s Dept. and it’s Senior Volunteer Patrol, CHP, North County Fire, and more provide a vital communication system the day of the event and coordinate appropriate response for any emergencies.

“They keep quick, clear pathways to emergency services such as the hospital; we all work hard, together, to bring the safest environment we can to the festival,” said MacDonald. “Law enforcement agencies are involved from the beginning in every aspect from logistics... street closures, safety the day of, overall safety, keeping pedestrian traffic flowing, and disturbances down.” The chamber is required to secure several permits to hold the event since it also features food and alcohol for sale.

Specialty contests are a popular part of the annual Avocado Festival, and those also are volunteer-driven.

“Sue Shimer has handled the Guacamole Contest for years and Gordon Stone has handled the AVO 500 contest for kids for many years,” said MacDonald. “Helen Archibald oversees the Best Dressed Avocado Contest and Christiana Monarez is coordinating the Little Miss and Mister Avocado contest this year. Cory Carrier provides the sound and coordination for all the events that take place at the Community Stage during the festival.”

Anita Kimzey coordinates the annual Art of the Avocado contest. Fallbrook Propane is the major sponsor that makes the competition possible. Judging of entries already took place April 5 and the artwork will be on exhibit the day of the festival at Brandon Gallery, 105 N. Main Ave.

According to MacDonald, the easiest aspect of organizing the festival is getting together the committee members.

“Everyone really takes their piece of the puzzle and does an amazing job,” she said. The biggest challenge, she explained, used to be getting vendors loaded in and out of their assigned booths. However, since a company has been used for vendor coordination the past few years, that challenge has lessened.

“Kennedy & Associates is a real asset and handles this with great expertise,” she said.

April 13 will be extremely busy in Fallbrook, unlike other Sundays throughout the year. Impact is felt throughout the downtown area and MacDonald said the chamber is grateful that many entities are so helpful on the day of the event, especially when it comes to parking.

“Parking is always a concern,” she said. “We are allowed to use the parking lots of Fallbrook High School, Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, Major Market, and Northgate Market. We have two shuttles that we hire to bring people from the high school and Frazier Elementary, the Fallbrook Historical Society, and Fallbrook Senior Center in order to ease congestion downtown.”

Discussing plans for the 2014 Avocado Festival are, from left, chamber volunteers George Bamber, Marlene Rantanen, Roy Costello, and Chris Murphy.

“Many businesses (that aren’t usually open on Sunday) stay open for the event,” said MacDonald. “Some offer festival specials.”

Despite the enormous amount of work involved, member/volunteers of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce are committed to ensuring the event’s success, given it’s importance. In recent years, the event has generated over $1 million each year in sales, they said.

“The festival was started 28 years ago to bring business to town; with the idea that if you bring people to town, they will shop or come back to shop after seeing what our town has to offer,” said MacDonald. “Another important factor is that the proceeds from hosting the Avocado Festival fund other events in town, like the Christmas Parade. Those events wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have this event.”

 

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