Crowd surprises vendors who twice must replenish food supplies
■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
The American flag majestically waved in the breeze as a brilliant sun rose from the east illuminating the debut of something new happening at the intersection of Harvard Street and Florida Avenue.
Bales of hay reflected a golden glow to the developing scene that would soon become a celebration of downtown Hemet and the many businesses that came to be part of a grandiose event – the Make Hemet Great Festival.
Food vendors scurried in to fill dedicated spots where they could display their wares and varieties of food and goodies. Strangers and passersby stopped to marvel and take part in the festivities. Word spread throughout the city, and soon the nearby lawns and patios were alive with the sound of happy people.
Old timers harkened back to a time when the site was the historic Alessandro Hotel, reminiscent of an earlier era when the corner was a focal point of culture and commerce for the San Jacinto Valley. The semi-country atmosphere of old pervaded the atmosphere as children romped about with enough energy, if harnessed, to power the city.
The mixed aromas of street tacos (Mariscos La Poblana), soul food (Soul Food on Wheels) wafted across the highway and spiraled into the recently manicured palms reaching skyward. Folks revelled in the choices of food and, especially, the affordable prices.
One of the most popular attractions was one that entertained kids – the Atomic Video Game Truck, which drew scores of youngsters who clamored to use their coupon clipped from Easy-Ad for 15 minutes of free play.
Jewelry and novelties celebrating the event were also available at less than standard prices. Downtown Hemet businesses were on full display to show home folks as well as any tourists what a friendly and family-oriented community we have.
The legendary Rocky Zaarp and his Blues Crackers extended their musical repertoire to appeal to the tastes of young and old. Listeners tapped their toes in unison with the band. One might think back to hayrides and barn dances. The past seemed to blend into the present. Rocky certainly knows how to arouse a crowd into a dancing and hand-clapping frenzy.
Local merchants provided prizes and gift certificates to lucky winners. Balloons and Things donated bags filled with stuffed animals, hot and steamy popcorn, and Halloween costumes. Additional prizes and gift certificates were offered by Destination Coffee Bar and the Historic Hemet Theatre. Look to Balloon and Things for your special Halloween costumes at the upcoming festival the end of October.
A special attraction was an eclectic group of specialty cars gleaming like jewels on the back parking lot as the sunshine gave them a showy brilliance. A contest was held and the following vehicles stood out above others and were awarded as follows:
Most original: A 2007 custom Chevrolet Corvette – $100 gift certificate to Sweet Baby Jane’s
Best restored: A Ford roadster with a 1928 chassis, ‘32 grille and front end – $50 certificate To Shooters Bar and Grill
Most unconventional: 1987 Cadillac Fleetwood hearse
Honorable Mention: Peace of Mind 1958 Dodge Truck – best custom paint job.
As it always is, all good things come to the end of a dusty trail and ours was no exception. As the sun slowly faded into the western horizon, the American flag was lowered, folded, and properly stowed for another day. The patio street lights came alive, creating an evening time festive atmosphere. Artists, food vendors, jewelers, and photographers all lighted their booths. Sales increased. Venders were happy. Smiles beamed on the faces of the satisfied crowds. Closing in on 10 p.m. and clean-up crews began their work to ensure that the entire area would be spotless the coming morning.
This happy event may serve as a catalyst for re-energizing interest in Hemet’s downtown community. Blue “Make Hemet Great Again” hats (thanks to the generosity of Matt McPherson) were spotted throughout the day.
For an event that was put together in such rapid fashion, the attendance was more than anyone could have expected. It could have gone on all night. We believe the McPherson family, who owns the block between State and Harvard Streets and who sponsored the event, deserve a big “Thank You.” Prepare for October’s Make Hemet Great Again event on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the same location – 135 E. Florida Ave. in downtown Hemet.