Starting with the name, changes big and small are in store for the annual Edmonds-based festival that draws 45,000-plus visitors to Civic Playfield for three days each August.
Now in its 36th year, A Taste of Edmonds will be known as Taste Edmonds. And organizers also are “looking at sponsorship opportunities to make the event free,” said Greg Urban, President and CEO of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, which runs the event.
While some have complained about paying admission and then having to pay again for food and other activities once inside, there is a practical reason that the chamber is considering free admission. When Civic Field is renovated — something that will occur when the City of Edmonds acquires state and federal grant money, possibly by 2020-21– the Taste event will have to temporarily move elsewhere, and charging admission may not be possible.
Urban pointed to the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe as an example of a nearby event that draws a substantial event sponsor (BECU), making it free to the public.
There are other changes on the horizon as well. The main stage, which used to be set up facing the now-demolished Civic Field grandstands — is being eliminated in favor of a smaller performance-style stage with more local acts. There will be a new layout for food vendors, grouping them together on the south end of Civic Field (see map), eliminating the practice of having patrons circling “a dusty track” to sample food.
The beer and wine gardens, which were located on opposite sides of Civic field, will now be in the same “21-plus” area at the field’s north end, next to the Boys and Girls Club building. The beer stage, formerly at the west end of that area, will sit between the beer and wine areas so all can enjoy the entertainment. And as for the entertainment, expect major changes there too — the long-time bands that have graced the beer garden stage are gone, to be replaced by new names in hopes of drawing bigger crowds.
Taste Edmonds serves as the non-profit chamber’s largest fundraiser, bringing in between $60,000 and $80,000 annually to help fund other community events like the 4th of July, Halloween Trick-or-Treat and Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Urban acknowledged that the name change itself will lead to the inevitable question: Why aren’t there more Edmonds-based businesses at an event that is called Taste Edmonds?
“We are trying our best to bring Edmonds back to the Taste,” Urban said. But many variables factor into whether Edmonds restaurants and other businesses participate in the three-day festival. In fact, Chamber Membership Manager Jan Nicholas outlined many of them in this column last year for My Edmonds News.
“Local restaurants find that they don’t have enough staff to operate a booth and the restaurant at the same time,” Nicholas wrote. “Or they don’t have a mobile kitchen to prepare food away from the restaurant.” And “they can’t store all the food and supplies they will need.”
Restaurants also have determined that if a chef cannot prepare a signature dish to their standards, they don’t want to sell it, she said.
“The same is true with our local stores,” she said. “Between staffing, bringing in enough merchandise to sell, getting insurance, tents, tables and display racks; it is a lot to ask a small business owner,” Nicholas wrote.
To address these types of concerns, the chamber is also working to make Taste Edmonds more accessible to local business owners.
For starters, vendors will be able to choose where to be located at the event based on what they need, and how much they can afford. (See color coding on Vendor Application cover sheet, above.) Not everyone needs power, for example, so a booth in an area without power is less expensive. Non-profits, based on an IRS 501 c (3) or 501 c (6) status, can be located in the new Non-Profit Area for as little as $200.
As in years past, chamber members receive a 20 percent discount on booth space during the event, which this year will run Aug. 10-12.
The chamber is also instituting new rules regarding those defined as “service or information” vendors — in other words, those not selling items onsite. Starting this year, those vendors are required to have a “kid-friendly” activity. For example, Urban noted, a real estate company could provide a cardboard house to be decorated, or a gutter company could “fill gutters with water and offer wind-up boat races.”
The goal is to make the experience better for everyone. “We want people to interact with service vendors, not just walk past,” he said.
And speaking of being family-friendly, the chamber is reaching out to carnival vendors in an effort to bring an extensive selection of rides to the children’s area, and to sell wristbands that allow for unlimited rides. So far, a vendor for 2018 has not been located, as many of these companies are booked for the year, Urban said.
For the first time, the chamber is allowing a limited number of food trucks, including three that will be located in the 21-plus area. This means that those in the beer and wine areas can still get food without missing the entertainment, Urban said.
And Urban hopes to place buskers throughout the festival “to create little pockets of ambiance. You never know what you are going to hear or see,” he said.
Vendors interested in exhibiting at Taste Edmonds can follow the registration link here.
— By Teresa Wippel