After more than a year of battling the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, several businesses in Ocean Beach on Saturday celebrated the start of summer with the return of its long-time traditional fair — albeit with a twist this year.
The Ocean Beach MainStreet Association hosted “Celebrate the OB Vibe,” a free community event along the waterfront on Abbot Street to support businesses affected by the pandemic akin to its annual Ocean Beach Street Fair and Chili Cookoff.
This year’s event was held on a smaller scale and set up in parking lots, rather than on streets near the beach. Due to the uncertainty of health-related restrictions, the usual event was canceled in 2020 and this year.
“Merchants have had enough setbacks and this is a time to celebrate,” said Barbara Iacometti, president of the association. “We have bars, breweries, retailers, restaurants and we need to support them. This setup gives everyone a chance to come out and support our businesses, as well as our artists.”
Businesses along Abbott Street and Newport Avenue kept busy throughout the day as some had lines of customers wrap around their storefronts. While the pandemic brought forth challenges for businesses, the area has not seen an increase in vacant storefronts like some other neighborhoods.
“Right now we are full. There are no businesses that are out,” said Tracy Wagner, operations manager with the association. “A lot of businesses deferred their rent. There’s a lot of businesses that are waiting to see what happens after summer, but summer is our busy time and that’s when most merchants make their money.”
Dozens of local artisans selling handmade goods and entertainment for children also saw heavy foot traffic.
Among them was El Cajon resident Kathy Ford, who sells plant hangers, light pendants and hand-dyed wall décor. She began her small business during the COVID-19 lockdown last year.
“I have a business administration job, and we’ve been working from home. Last year, I needed to have a creative outlet. I’m a very creative person. I just started making things for friends and family, and then I started my shop,” said Ford. “Being out here today is just great to see people’s reactions in person after just interacting online.”
An in-person experience with others was a plus for many of the several hundred visitors that occupied the Ocean Beach waterfront.
“It’s wonderful to be able to walk down the street, come down here and see other kids. It’s awesome to be around other kids,” said resident Dave Jalonen, who made kites with his daughter and wife Ruth at a booth hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Ocean Beach.
The Kiwanis Club had also paused its annual kite festival due to the pandemic but made a comeback Saturday by providing about 1,000 free kites for children to decorate, set up and fly along the beach.
At Ocean Beach resident Tony Melendez’s Rad Hatter booth, visitors could decorate paper hats using a variety of art supplies.
“This is art therapy. People are walking around with their hats and others are saying, ‘Hey you look in your hat,’ and that’s good because people’s esteem has been down during the pandemic,” he said. The event also marked his official return to business, he said, since COVID-19 halted him from doing his average of about 170 annual shows, where he provides event entertainment with his interactive art.
Saturday’s event also featured live music, games and raffles, and other food vendors. The association’s traditional street fair — with its popular chili cookoff — is slated to return in June 2022.