By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
The holidays are a time for traditions, and one of La Mesa’s holiday traditions is returning this year — albeit with a new name and a new organization behind it.
Holiday in the Village — formerly known as Christmas in the Village — will be held on Dec. 10 from 10 a.m.–10 p.m. on La Mesa Boulevard between Spring and Fourth streets.
The event is the first to be put on by the newly formed La Mesa Village Association (LMVA) and although it has a new name, the event will still have the usual “Christmas flair,” LMVA chairman Aaron Dean said.
“It’s chestnuts roasting over three fireplaces down the middle of the street; it’s Santa; it’s carolers; it’s Christmas lights,” he said. “We went back and forth on changing the name numerous times, but because of the name change we were able to get some bigger sponsors this year.”
With the help of sponsors and dues paid by members of the new association, Dean said Holiday in the Village will have more to offer than past events. There will be two stages for all-day music and entertainment, jumpies, face painting, rides and booths for holiday shopping.
“It’s not just one kid ride, we almost have a full little amusement park this year,” Dean said. “We’ll have somewhere between 60 to 70 craft vendors — actual gift-buying locations, not solar companies, but a place for the community to come shop.”
In addition to the craft vending, food trucks will complement the restaurants on La Mesa Boulevard, rather than compete with them.
“That’s what a merchant association will do, rather than an outside promoter,” Dean said. “I’m not going to bring in a burger truck and park outside of Johnny B’s. I’m not going to bring in a Mexican taco truck right now when we have La Torta, Miguel’s, Por Favor. The events and the people you bring in should be complementary and support the current businesses that are here. I’m not going to bring in someone who sells stones and incense and put them in front of Amethyst Moon. But that’s what’s happened in the past.”
A fresh start
La Mesa Village Association formed this year to replace the now-defunct La Mesa Village Merchants Association, which ran out of money to hold events and is still in the red to the city of La Mesa for police and fire services.
With the future of downtown events up in the air, the city decided to keep them going by putting them on itself, like it did for this year’s Oktoberfest.
“We were thrust into having the responsibility of either letting Oktoberfest go away for a year and then try and find somebody to run and bring it back, or have the city step in and take it over — and that’s what we did,” said City Councilmember Guy McWhirter, who headed up a special subcommittee that took charge of the traditional city events. “That’s not what we want to be in the business of doing, but we want to make sure there’s an organization that we feel comfortable enough with to turn it over to and keep it the same type of quality that we want to see in downtown.”
Right now, that organization is the La Mesa Village Association, which already represents some 60 businesses in and around La Mesa Village.
“Our map is pretty expansive,” Dean said. “It goes from University up to Lemon down to the corner where the Adult Enrichment Center is and wraps around Vons’ shopping center. On top of it, we have an affiliation program so we have quite a few businesses joined who are in La Mesa but are outside of our map.”
Businesses that join pay an annual fee of $600 for a restaurant or bar; $360 for a retail store; $120 for office businesses; and $60 for associate members. Members outside of the map area get a 35 percent discount and second businesses get a 50 percent discount.
Members benefit with access to participation in downtown events.
“I’ll give you an example,” Dean said. “For Holiday in the Village, because this event is in East Village, those who are members of the association down in West Village, they get a free vendor booth. They are the only ones that would be able to sell things that have nothing to do with gifts.
“It’s our way of allowing those businesses to participate in an event that gets somewhere around 20,000 people. This year, [that turnout] is what we’re expecting with our music lineup, food trucks and different things we have. The other benefit is you get a say.”
La Mesa Village Association is currently operating with officers and board members who were more-or-less self-appointed by the initial group of business owners who started the organization
“So for right now, that’s what we had to do,” Dean said, adding that there will be regular elections in the future. “Just like you would expect from any new business, you have to just start up. There’s no one taking a single salary. All the money that comes in is 100 percent used for events, used for the merchants in this neighborhood.”
Because of the history of the previous merchants association, making sure that the money is there to put on Holiday in the Village, at an estimated cost of $30,000, is paramount to the success of the new business group.
“This year, it’s our very first event, but between our membership dues, quite a few sponsors and our vendor booths, we’ll be able to pull this event off and not be in the red,” Dean said.
But a tight fiscal plan isn’t the only factor in pulling off a successful event. According to McWhirter, communication with the city is just as important — a lesson learned from past events put on by the previous merchants association.
“[The city’s relationship with the previous merchants association] wasn’t adversarial, it was just the city didn’t know what [they were] doing until the last minute.”
To keep an open line of communication with the city, La Mesa Village Association meets once a week with McWhirter who acts in an advisory role to explain what the city might require or what the city might want in an event.
A look ahead
So, what future events does the city plan to let the new association hold?
“Right now it’s really too early to say. This is the first event that this group has the responsibility of doing, so we want to see how that works out,” McWhirter said. “We don’t want to talk about anything in the future yet because it’s like putting the cart before the horse.”
But, so far, McWhirter is impressed with what he sees in the new association’s planning for Holiday in the Village.
“They already have a full day of events prepared,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of activity going on so this gives the opportunity for the first time for this association to say, ‘OK, this is what we can do.’”
Beyond Holiday in the Village, Dean and McWhirter are hoping to see a lot more events happening downtown that the La Mesa Village Association would like to be a part of — car shows, the Antique Fair, the farmers market and even a possible music festival.
“When good events are put on right, it helps promote everybody — businesses thrive, the neighborhood loves it,” Dean said.
For more information about the La Mesa Village Association and Holiday in the Village, visit lamesavillageassociation.org.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.