I just had one of the busiest and most interesting, weekends in recent memory. Many conversations had, many things learned, many ideas shared. A large amount of it I just can’t get into right now, but suffice to say there are very good things brewing (in the metaphorical sense) right now, and I feel pretty positive about the year ahead.
Amongst the craziness of the weekend was a few hours spent in the beer gardens at the Columbia StrEAT Food truck festival thingy. This was shocking, and yet refreshingly not. For those out of town or otherwise unaware, tens of thousands of people showed up on Columbia Street Saturday afternoon/evening to sample the wide variety of food truck offerings that have descended on the Lower Mainland (and the rest of North America) in the last few years.
How successful was the event? So many showed up, that the food lines were often an hour long, and many of the trucks sold completely out of product before the end of the event. I sat in the beer garden waiting for lines to shrink, then went to get a grilled goodie at 7:00ish. I asked the operator how it was going, and she said she apologized for the limited offerings she had left.
I said “That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Well,” she replied, looking exasperated, “We have another event tomorrow, and we have no more product. It’s not like we can pick these things [her delicious homemade sausages] up at Costco.”
The only complaints I heard from the crowd was that the lineups were too long. A complaint not unlike the old saw “No-one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”.
This got many of the noble beer-garden patrons with whom I was sharing stories contemplating what this event might mean for future “Car-free days” on Columbia Street, and what relation this has to the other big festival-related story in New Westminster right now.
On the first topic, I think we have learned that if we choose to build it, they will come. The ongoing massive success of the Show & Shine has some wondering if more “Car-free days” could work on Columbia, around different themes. Some other street festivals are really hopping in New West (I think especially of the newer “UpTown Live”), while there is no doubt some other events are getting a little stale (examples redacted – but you know who they are). I think this event shows there is an appetite, as long as there is some variety of themes, they offer something new or interesting, and they are well marketed.
The question remaining would be how would more events on Columbia serve the merchants along Columbia, seeing the effort that the Downtown BIA put into organizing them? It appeared everyone from the Heritage Grill to Starschmucks had huge days, and even further-afield businesses like SpudShack and Re-up BBQ commented on how they saw a big sales on Saturday (no doubt benefiting from those 1-hour lineups on the street). The spin-offs from having all of these people downtown should be obvious to the merchants who support the BIA.
I’m not sure the wedding shops benefited as much, but I digress.
So I look forward to what Kendra and the rest of the folks at the Downtown BIA do with this new knowledge and the vigour it promises. I could think of a few different types of events that would similarly bring hungry, thirsty, happy people to Columbia Street on a sunny weekend. Nothing against the Show & Shine, but it should be the beginning of something, not the only thing!
As for the other festival-related story about these parts, I just don’t know what to say. I have had casual conversations this weekend with a half-dozen different people who are, or should be, “in the know” about what is happening at Hyack, and from those 6 people I got at least 7 different stories, most of them contradicting each other.
I think speculation from those of us who are not “in the know” probably doesn’t serve any purpose, but I am concerned when some of the same people who usually call for openness and transparency for all things at the City are now the ones counselling that everyone should just be quiet and let this pass. Hyack spends a lot of taxpayers’ dollars, and are responsible for much of the public face of the City. This type of mysterious back-room battle erupting into public hissy fits does nothing to improve confidence in their ability to continue doing the good work they do.
For my part, I’m glad the City has Hyack, and that so many volunteers are willing to work so hard to make it successful. They are not without fault, however, and some of the allegedly-sacred traditions around Hyack may need to be updated to appeal to a growing 21st century urban centre full of young families, hipster doofuses, and the transit-oriented consumers from surrounding communities who are only a few minutes away from one of our five SkyTrain Stations.
I get the sense that was the direction the no-former Executive Director (whom I have never met, by the way) was leaning, and it seemed like there was some success towards that direction. Then today I read a letter by Bart Slotman, who is not one of the people I have chatted with about this, but for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, and it sort of confirms my worst suspicions. Something is amiss here, and needs to be fixed.
My (in this case, actually humble) opinion is that Hyack does a great job getting folks in New Westminster to look inward and enjoy our wonderful City, but needs more successful events like Uptown Live and the Columbia StrEAT Festival to bring others into New West, to show our neighbors who we are and why they should come back. We have something to show off here, so let’s quit arguing about it, and do it!