Old Spanish Days team announces approval of Mercados De La Guerra
A festive, vibrant and authentic market — and a staple of Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days — will be back at De La Guerra Plaza this August.
The big announcement was made Monday afternoon by Fiesta leadership, performers and board members, straight from the plaza itself. The mercados will look just as they have in the many years past, with live performances, music and, of course, lots of food.
David Bolton, the 2021 Old Spanish Days El Segundo Vice Presidente, described the mercados as “Ground Zero” for Fiesta.
“It’s really an important part of what Old Spanish Days continues to do after 97 years in the community,” he told the News-Press. “And this year is extremely special, because with so many impacted by the restrictions over the last 15 months, we’re really excited to once again be able to support our local nonprofits, our local businesses and members of the community with the Mercados De La Guerra 2021.”
Mr. Bolton said the city of Santa Barbara gave direction to hold the mercados just like the Fiesta did in 2019. The only difference this year is that there won’t be any booths in the middle of the plaza, creating a more open space in the center for attendees.
In addition, the Casa Cantina at the Casa De La Guerra is not taking place, so there will be more overall space for the vendors.
There will be approximately 21 food booths and 30 or more merchant booths this year, according to Laura Abrignani, the co-chair of the Mercados Committee for Old Spanish Days.
She told the News-Press that the fact that many of the food booths donate a percentage of their sales from Fiesta to nonprofits, coupled with the fact that Old Spanish Days supports nonprofits with its revenue, makes her grateful that the mercados can play a part in the recovery of small businesses.
“It’s just bringing that feeling of community back,” Ms. Abrignani said. “We know a lot of the business in the surrounding areas — whether it’s hotels, restaurants, bars, even clothing stores — everybody gets a piece of that action, which is really important, especially after a pandemic.”
La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow shared the news with reporters at the plaza, where she was decked out in traditional Fiesta dress alongside the other key members of the event.
“This year was a tough year for all of us in Santa Barbara, all of us in the country, all of us in the world,” Ms. Petlow said. “So with choosing my theme ‘Honoring Our Generations,’ we’re going back to our family that founded Santa Barbara, some of the families dating back to the Cota family, the De La Guerra family, and then our family, our Fiesta family …”
Both the Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta attended the press conference. They told reporters they look forward to dancing in front of a live audience and, in the words of Spirit Ysabella Yturralde, “getting Fiesta back in motion.”
While the mercados are indeed coming back this year, it still remains very unlikely that the main Fiesta parade or children’s parade will return this year. Mr. Bolton said the city’s Parks and Recreation Department already canceled the children’s parade, and the Fiesta parade won’t be able to occur on State Street with all of the parklets currently in the right-of-way.
He told the News-Press that the Fiesta board and staff exhausted other optional streets for the parade.
Chapala Street was ruled out due to the lack of trees and the impact it would have on the Carrillo Street thoroughfare. Cabrillo Boulevard and the beach was ruled out because of the impacts it would have on parking, the fact that it would cut off access to the beach and the difficulties of getting everyone to circle back around.
When asked about Santa Barbara Street, Mr. Bolton said having the parade there would cut off the Haley and Anacapa Street thoroughfares, and the road doesn’t come up from the ocean.
Finally, the build out of Milpas Street’s sidewalks and other street fixtures, combined with its roundabout and heavy traffic, removed it from the conversation as well.
Ultimately, though, the second vice president said it wouldn’t truly be the Fiesta parade if it weren’t on State Street.
“State Street has been the historic route for the parade since the very first year, and even dating back prior to Fiesta with the Flower Festival through town,” he said. “It’s always been that (street) in this town, and it’s been dynamic for Santa Barbara to have such a great parade route. You can’t really create that same feel by just moving to any street.”
However, he did say that it was stated at their last meeting by La Primera Vice Presidenta Maria Cabrera: “We are ready to bring our parade up State Street as soon as the city makes it possible.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo told the News-Press Monday that the Fiesta parade was canceled because of COVID concerns, “not really because of the parklets.” She said that because of the city’s Emergency Economic Recovery Ordinance extension through March 2022, outdoor dining and the parklets will continue until then.
The question, she said, remains of what to do with parades if parklets are allowed to stay in the street right-of-way on State Street.
“That question will be taken up during the State Street Master Planning process,” the mayor said. “Staff is looking ahead to September of this year to develop suggestions related to parades and other issues when the EERO expires.
“I’ve heard people talk about moving parades to Chapala Street, or Anacapa Street or to Cabrillo Boulevard. It will be great to hear people’s ideas. We love our parades, but we are also loving the new promenade on State Street.”
That being said, Mayor Murillo said that it’s “wonderful” that the mercados can return to De La Guerra Plaza.
“I’m sure it will make a lot of our residents happy to enjoy the entertainment, eat good food and support the nonprofits that set up booths in the plaza.”
The Mercados De La Guerra ribbon cutting will take place on a Wednesday, Aug. 4, and run through that Saturday, Aug. 8. The mercados will be open each day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
To learn more, visit sbfiesta.org.