By Raiza Giorgi

Solvang’s newest family-style festival drew 10,000 to 12,000 people to the downtown area Nov. 15-17 for a weekend of carnival rides, games, live music and food vendors, earning plenty of fans but a number of detractors in its first year.

In response, city officials and the Solvang Fall Festival’s promoter have promised to listen to complaints, mostly from downtown business owners, and avoid similar problems if the festival returns next year.

The social media feeds of countless people were clogged over that weekend with photos of a huge Ferris wheel on Copenhagen Drive, kids on carnival rides, and other youth performing in the Battle of the Teenage Bands.

“It was great seeing how many families that came out to enjoy the weekend. I ran into a family with four generations all together having fun, which was great. I got to see people I haven’t seen since high school,” said Solvang Mayor Ryan Toussaint. 

Solvang resident Mikki Robinson said she wished this event had been around while she was growing up here, and her kids had a blast. 

“I felt like there was activities for the kids to do, especially the teens, which most of our valley’s festivals lack,” Robinson said. 

The Mad Caddies performing at Solvang Fall Festival. Photo contributed

The headline part of the event was the concert featuring local-grown band The Mad Caddies, who drew thousands of people to Solvang Park on Saturday night. Santa Barbara-based band Jumpstart won the Battle of the Teenage Bands, with valley band Sweatervest in a close second. 

“I thought it was the most fun we’ve ever had at a hometown show. It was so great to see the whole community out having a good time. Peace, love, respect and dancing, that’s what our band represents,” said Chuck Robertson, front man for the Mad Caddies. 

Toussaint said that despite the great reception by many people, he is also hearing from local businesses about how the event hurt their revenue profits during one of the busiest times of the year. He encouraged those business owners to talk about their experience and provide feedback about how the event could be improved if it returns for next year.

“While we know that not all the events we have care of the local merchants, this one we really felt hit a lot of markers in giving people opportunities to shop and dine locally,” Toussaint said. 

He encouraged merchants to email and list what they liked, didn’t like or what improvements they suggest. 

Not all local business people were critical of the first-time event.

“Whether it directly aided our business or not, bringing 10,000 people to town two weekends before Thanksgiving is a feat, and we are supportive and grateful for the town’s efforts to reach out to a wider base. It’s always tricky to navigate the needs of businesses, parking, locals, and tourists, but they made the effort,” said Anjie Park of Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards and Toccata. 

Park said Lucas & Lewellen’s sales were slightly below average, and Toccata had no sales at all during the weekend.

 “The organizers chose a slow weekend (unlike the bike race the weekend before that closed the streets on Veteran’s Day weekend), and the activity in town at this time of year will bring attention to the area as a fun family town with a lot going on,” Park added. 

Cecco owner David Cecchini said initially he did not want to participate as there wasn’t much time to promote the event, and his Friday sales were dismal. He added after city officials asked him to participate he was glad he did, as Saturday and Sunday his sales were the best he’s ever had. 

“I know not everyone experienced this. which is frustrating, and I really hope if this event comes back they will make adjustments,” Cecchini said. 

Ron and Julie Palladino of Renaissance Antiques, in a letter to the Star, said they have heard that several of the businesses in the retail district were hurt by the event, and they encouraged the council to reconsider where similar events take place in the future. 

Photo by Raiza Giorgi

They said they loved the concept of the event, as it drew families to town, and they said organizers were very helpful, but they lost revenue heading into the key holiday season. 

Palladino said their revenue fell more than 82 percent compared to last year during the same weekend, from more than $21,000 in sales to $3,783. 

“County fair-style events like this belong in places somewhere on the outskirts of town, where participants can enjoy the carnival without strangling the village by eliminating half of the parking spaces, blocking off major streets and barricading sidewalks, making it almost impossible for visitors to access the businesses that have created, nurtured and supported the existence of Solvang, its economic health and culture,” Ron Palladino wrote. 

Palladino added that most of the businesses liked the concept of a family festival, but the location should be moved to the Mission Santa Ines lawn or Solvang Veterans Memorial Hall. 

“The impact of this event on Solvang businesses was devastating to many and hurtful to most others. Three days of diminished revenue not only negatively affects the wellbeing and survival of our business community, but diminishes the (city’s) tax revenues substantially by lost sales and income,” Palladino said. 

The owner of Sort This Out Cellars, which was directly behind the Ferris wheel, said a simple sign on the barricades saying businesses were open could have helped. 

“Friday was horrible, Saturday was steady, but two weeks in a row with the streets closed doesn’t do us any good,” said owner Michael Cobb. 

Michael Mendizza, who owns ZFolio, Solvang Olive Press and Solvang Flavors, said he lost between $5,000 and $8,000 in weekend revenue. 

Jennifer Soni, winemaker and owner of Lion’s Peak, was similarly concerned. 

“I have supported every endeavor the city has done, but I had no idea there would be a giant carnival ride outside my business, and I was greatly impacted. I did almost no sales, and someone nearly bled out in front of my business Friday night,” she said. 

A police report said a 33-year-old Santa Maria man punched out the window of Ingeborg’s chocolate shop, cutting himself severely, and then left a trail of blood down to the Lion’s Peak tasting room. Daniel Meza was arrested and the case referred to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office. It was not clear whether Meza was in town for the festival. 

Soni said she averages at least $5,000 on a typical weekend but did no sales at all on Friday, then $300 on Saturday and $600 on Sunday. 

“How am I supposed to make my $4,000 a month rent? The question the business owners and city should be asking themselves is, who are they marketing to? After this bit of closing off Copenhagen, I am done with that. Find another location,” she said. 

Event organizer Andres Nuno said that he was very upset to hear that business owners had lost revenue. He said he worked diligently to make sure they were all involved, inviting every business to have a booth for free in the street fair. 

“The businesses we are seeing that lost revenue did not participate in the event at all. I personally will go to every business who had a negative effect and see what I can do for next year to ensure this doesn’t happen,” Nuno said. 

At the upcoming Solvang City Council meeting, Nuno said his company will give back the $25,000 that the city paid to defer upfront costs.

 “We also gave a check for $2,000 to the Solvang Arts and Music program,” he said. 

Nuno said his goal for this first fall festival was to break even, and he said he profited some from the event by getting two more event jobs from local organizations. 

“This event should be about bringing the community together and supporting local businesses as they head into the holiday season. Hopefully we will be back next year to make it better than this year,” Nuno said. 

The Solvang City Council will be discussing the event at a meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, at City Hall, 1644 Oak St. 

Visit the city’s website at to see the full agenda.