Bean skeptical
by Rob L. Wagner
Aug 03, 2007 | 453 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Tracy’s Dry Bean Festival is coming Sept. 8 and 9. It’s probably penciled in on every desk calendar and crayoned on a scrap of paper on every refrigerator door in Tracy.

Or maybe not.

With six weeks to go before Tracy’s signature summer festival, some skeptical merchants grumble that changes need to be made to enliven what they see as an event that’s in decline.

"The bean festival doesn’t bring down a shopping crowd," said Stacey Pacheco, owner of Blush in the Villa Boutiques, 24 W. 10th St. "A lot of people like a more upscale festival."

The festival has been struggling of late. Attendance has dropped each year since 2004. And last year’s festival, in which downtown was fenced in and festivalgoers were charged $5 admission, reminded some of a summer outdoor rock concert without the bands but with plenty of vendors selling Pilates equipment.

Downtown business owners are hoping for something better, and Tracy Chamber of Commerce President Dan Maloney is promising to deliver just that.

But he doesn’t know exactly what vendors and entertainment acts will be signed. Those decisions will be made Aug. 13, three weeks before the big event.

"We have plenty of time," Maloney said Thursday. "We’ll be meeting with the entertainment people, the police department, vendors and the parks and recreation department to finalize things."

Now that the chamber has done away with the fence and cover charge, business owners are happier, but a tad skeptical.

Bill Carey, owner of the Tracy Wine Cellar, 51 W. 10th St., admits that maybe beans don’t go particularly well with wine.

"Maybe if you had a little cheese and crackers to go with it, it might work," he said.

Blush’s Pacheco said business was fairly good on the first day of last year’s festival, but a different, more rowdy, crowd showed up on the second day.

She wants something upscale for Tracy residents who are fond of wine sipping and cheese nibbling. She’d prefer that the commercial vendors stay away.

"How about something more with arts and crafts, some stuff that’s interesting," she said. "We don’t need Cingular and AT&T booths."

Vicki Chao, who owns The Perfect Fit at Villa Boutiques, agrees. "No one wants to come down here to buy insurance."

And if beer sales disappeared, they would hardly be disappointed, Pacheco said.

So if 100 varieties of beans, an auto insurance policy, a subscription to a cellular telephone plan and cheap beer are not enough for Tracy festivalgoers, what is?

The Tracy Dry Bean Festival was founded in 1987 when the California Dry Bean Advisory Board teamed up with the Tracy Chamber of Commerce to promote legume as a food source.

Tracy seemed the ideal place for it, since it once was surrounded by bean fields. The festival kept its focus on lima and pinto beans along with similar legumes. But beans such as coffee, cocoa, vanilla and jumping beans never made the grade. To top it off, organizers seem to be drifting further from its agricultural roots.

Apparently not sexy enough as a festival theme is Tracy’s historic roots in the railroad industry. The city’s origins date to the Central Pacific Railroad’s line from San Francisco to Tracy, which was inaugurated Sept. 8, 1878, right around the same time of year as the festival.

If those in Tracy turned their eyes northeast, they would see that Stockton and Lodi turned their festivals into big hits.

Stockton has its Asparagus Festival (with asparagus ice cream). Featured as entertainment in April were The Family Stone (some folks from Sly & The Family Stone) Blood, Sweat & Tears and Three Dog Night.

Lodi has its Grape Festival the week after the bean fun here. Lodi will have Greg Kihn (of "our love’s in jeopardy" fame) and Rain. the aging Beatles tribute band.

The bean festival’s slate is still unknown. But it did feature a Journey tribute band a long time ago.

But if you ask some people who sell stuff on 10th Street, they’ll tell you they’d like to see more class and less Podunk.

"Artisans and vendors, the arts with wine would be good," said Patti Blahnick, owner of 2nd Ave., 61 W. 10th St.

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