By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
For the fourth year in a row, the La Mesa Village Association (LMVA) hosted its annual “Holiday in The Village” celebration Dec. 13 and 14 in the Downtown Village.
The popular holiday event featured performances by local symphonic bands playing seasonal music, Christmas carolers, acoustic performances on the La Mesa Lumber truck stage and various dancers and performers on a wooden dance floor set up in the middle of La Mesa Boulevard. Children enjoyed bounce houses and a miniature train ride while parents shopped and dined at the various vendor booths and in local shops and restaurants in the Village. When the sun went down, people warmed themselves and chatted with neighbors and visitors alike by the fire pits set up around the Village.
The weather was good with only a very slight and short-lived sprinkle of rain on Saturday evening, and attendance was high for the popular event — which is somewhat of a holiday miracle itself considering that whether or not this year’s Holiday in The Village would even happen was still up in the air just a few short months ago.
A funding dilemma
Funding for the Holiday in The Village — and for the LMVA in general — became an issue following the July vote by City Council that effectively stripped the association of its partnership with Brian Beevers to put on the Friday farmers markets. That vote — which saved the market for residents to continue enjoying — made Beevers’ Brian’s Farmers Markets the sole entity in charge of putting on the weekly event, as well as the sole entity receiving money earned by it.
That created a dilemma for the LMVA in putting on this year’s Holiday in The Village, said LMVA chair Theresa Favro.
“Our problem was that we only had a little bit of money and we were making our income from the farmers market and then when that income stopped abruptly Aug. 1, it kind of wiped out all our money coming in for Holiday in the Village,” she said. “So if we did Holiday in The Village, we were going to be in the hole and owe money. None of us wanted to write big checks to get out of a hole and then start LMVA from scratch again, because we all put in a lot of our own money to start LMVA.”
The loss of farmers market funds hit the LMVA especially hard, Favro said, because the uncertainty around the market made it difficult for the association to do anything else.
“We put everything on hold for a year and half to figure out what was going on with the farmers market,” she said, adding that the association had stopped looking for new members or collecting dues from existing members because of its uncertain future.
A new funding source
Around the time that City Council was debating whether or not to end the farmers market in the Village, it began debating and eventually passed a new plan to fund events in the Village — the Village Enhancement Fund (VEF) which draws from parking meter revenue collected in the Village for events and promotions.
Although the fund wasn’t initially supposed to start providing money for events until next year, a decision was made to open a short window of time in early October for people to apply for events.
LMVA secretary Pam Rader filled out the necessary paperwork and after meeting with the city felt reasonably certain that the VEF would provide enough money to fund this year’s Holiday in The Village.
The city ended up furnishing $40,000 of VEF money for the event — most of the total cost of around $58,000 to put it on.
“People think Holiday in The Village is a money maker, but it is not,” Rader said. Unlike Oktoberfest which has many more vendors that pay for booths and proceeds from alcohol sales, Holiday in The Village doesn’t take in enough money to pay for itself.
With the VEF funds and sponsorships for the event (which Rader said the LMVA managed to double this year), Holiday in The Village will likely break even and perhaps even leave a little extra in the LMVA coffers for the future.
Uncertainty, hope for future
With Holiday in The village now in the past, the LMVA has already started looking toward the future and funding another popular event — the summer car shows.
When applying for VEF funds for this year’s Holiday in The Village, the LMVA also applied for next year’s holiday event as well as the 2020 car shows. Rader said the city has promised $9,000 for the car shows and $30,000 for next year’s Holiday in The Village — $10,000 less than this year.
Unlike the consistent income the farmers market provided, the VEF funds are an unreliable source, Favro said.
“The thing I’m confused about this money from the city, once people find out about it, now you’re going to have all kinds of different organizations coming after that money and so our money will get less and less,” she said. “We might not get approved for anything in 2021 because there’s not enough money to go around.”
Despite the uncertainty of VEF money, there is still hope for finding revenue to keep the LMVA and its events going into the future.
“We’ve started membership drive again and we have people joining, so that’s good,” Favro said. The LMVA has also learned from its efforts to secure sponsors for this year’s Holiday in The Village and is looking to work harder and start earlier to find event sponsors.
And there is also a chance that some farmers market money might find its way back to the LMVA. Beevers is looking into what he can afford to donate to the association from his market income. It would be substantially less than before because now that the market is in the hands of a for-profit entity like Brian’s Farmers’ Markets, there are added expenses. Still, if it happens, Favro said, it would be a welcome donation, even if it is an unreliable one at this point.
“He’s not obligated, he’s under no contract with us to give us anything and [the amount] can go up or down depending on if the farmers market does well,” she added.
But with new members and a city fund that has committed to helping finance two popular events, the LMVA looks at its near future with a mix of uncertainty and hope.
“We don’t have anything planned other than the car shows. We had a lot of ideas that we put on the back burner because we didn’t have a lot of income coming in,” Favro said. “We want to do a vintage fair, maybe in the west side of the Village, do some art shows down there — there’s all kinds of ideas. We want to sponsor building a sign to go over the street … and that’s going to be very costly.”
In the meantime, the LMVA is also looking to expand into simple events that don’t break the bank.
At end of October, the LMVA held its first storefront Trick or Treating event. Rader went to businesses from Fourth Street to Acacia Avenue and asked them to participate by having candy on hand for children. She promoted the event on social media and with flyers and the turnout was better than expected.
“People loved it,” she said. “We can do things like that that don’t cost much.”
Rader has a very positive outlook on the future of the LMVA: “We’re going to be around,” she said.
Favro agrees and hopes that by continuing to attract new members, the LMVA will grow and be able to put on more events and continue and grow its marketing of what the La Mesa Village has to offer.
“We’re really stepping that up,” she said. “We want to do advertising to bring people into the Village from outside of La Mesa.”
For more information about the La Mesa Village Association, visit lamesavillageassociation.org.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.