Tucson's Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair is coming: Putting it together is the hard part

winterfest

The 53rd Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair is from Friday Dec. 9 - 11. (Photo Courtesy of Mary Spencer.)

December has begun which means the holiday season is in full swing. It also means Tucson's 53rd Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair is getting ready. 

Both the winter and spring street fair have been happening since 1970, and vendors from Arizona and beyond come to sell their products at the event. Casey Anderson, Chief Operating Officer of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association, talked about how they put together the street fair.

“We have two street fairs in the year, but it is an ongoing, full-time job. Once one is over we’re planning already for the next one. The winter fair is coming up, [and] we’ve already gone through the jury process, [we] already know who we’re inviting to our spring fair, and we haven’t even had the winter fair yet,” Anderson said.

According to Anderson, about 400 vendors sell their items or services, and entertainers perform at the winter street fair. The way the artists are chosen is anonymous in a jury and the members of said jury don’t discuss with one another. The internal staff, however, determines what is good for the crowd and if the vendors could handle the sudden influx of about 300,000 people as well as any entertainers who could please the crowd. 

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“[The street fair] is a gold mine for people [to] come out and do their Christmas shopping. We theme it around that, so we have Santa Claus, we participate with the Salvation Army and their red kettle programs. … In the spring, it’s a whole different atmosphere,” Anderson said.

There is also certain criteria the vendors have to meet in order to sell at the fair. For artists, everything has to be handmade and according to Anderson, “only three hands [can] touch it” in order to avoid cheap online products being resold for a higher price. A similar criteria is applied to other products; for example, for something like solar panels, there would only be three companies selling (or sponsoring) this product permitted at the event. 

Food vendors have to give a preview of their menu which includes a kids menu. Vendors must also be considerate of other vendors; for example, Jerry’s Lemonade is a staple at the Winter Street Fair, so other food vendors can’t sell lemonade on their drink menu. They also fill out a questionnaire on whether or not they can accommodate the amount of people attending. Entertainment has a slightly different criteria as they must be family friendly.

While there are some challenges that face the event like public health, especially with COVID-19, and safety, the reward is big. Vendors like the local business Desert Alchemist come to sell its products. Since 2017, Desert Alchemist has focused their products on mushroom and herbal extracts that support body systems and improve health. Hernan Castro, the founder, knows what it’s like to prepare for such a big event.

“I try to do more art stuff for the street fair. We do sell fresh mushrooms, gourmet mushrooms, but I don’t think that would be a big thing at the street fair. We try to do things [that are] more aesthetic and attractive to customers who want something unique in their household,” Castro said.

Castro usually prepares six months ahead of the winter street fair starting with buying the booth to use for selling the products. Castro’s company sells t-shirts as well as herbal supplements, teas and coffee. He usually prepares the products needed two months in advance in order to have a lot of stock. He said he  typically picks out anything that has to do with mushrooms as well as supplements that help with sleep, pain, anxiety or memory as they are his bestsellers. 

Castro also plans how the booth is going to look in order to attract customers. He said he is hoping to bring newer, decorative mushroom products like dried ones to hang up.

“It’s a very magical time. When the street fair’s in town, I like to see all the different vendors from different places and meet a lot of different people behind the scenes. It’s a very magical feeling; it feels like being at Hogwarts,” Castro said.

While small businesses get booths, some of the shops on Fourth Avenue also buy booths to help boost their sales in addition to keeping their stores open to attract customers. Jennifer Kraych and her husband Michael have a booth at the winter street fair. Their shop, Celestial Rites, is located at 543 N Fourth Ave near the beginning of where the street fair starts. Having both a booth at the fair and their shop open allows them to find more business but also protect their valuable products.

Since Kraych and her husband are the sole owners and workers they’ve had time to perfect their system and can set up their booth in an hour and a half. They also keep most of the more expensive products in their shop, so if the crowd is interested in more, they can be sent to the store itself.

“There’s a lot of things that are too fragile to go in the tent. Unfortunately, they do serve alcohol at the street fair, and sometimes people can't control that. You’re in a ten-by-ten booth, so it can be a little bit scary having more fragile products outside. It also depends on the weather too because journals and boxes can't get wet, so there’s been a couple of Decembers where we’ve been rained out,” Kraych said.

Kraych specializes in metaphysicals and starts to organize what they will sell at the fair about four or five months in advance with inventory as well as building jewelry. Since they make most of their products, they usually keep a bulk of it on hand as well.

“Being able to meet new people and have people who have never met us or really know about our store yet is amazing to us. We’ve been open 11 years and there’s still so many people who live in Tucson who’ve never heard of us. I like to get people excited about metaphysics in general and just getting new people in the store,” Kraych said.

The 53rd Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair is from Dec. 9 - 11 and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.


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