By Assunta Ng
What saved the Chinatown/International District summer festival?
If you gave up on the Seattle’s Chinatown summer festival a while back, you should definitely pay it a visit next year. For years, the festival seemed stale, with nothing new on its agenda. The crowds, including vendors, began to disappear.
Last year, a new name, “Dragon Fest,” a beer garden, and aggressive branding brought back many visitors. This year, Dragon Fest was a hit, a dramatic shift from the past.
New design showcased ID’s strengths
Innovation was the key. The change in design for the street fair helped maximize the use of space and highlighted Chinatown’s cultural assets.
First, the space of the event area was expanded one-third from its former size, starting from 8th Avenue South on King Street South, to the Seattle Chinese Historical Gate and the parking lot of the old Uwajimaya.
Built in 2008, the gate was one of the newest and most beautiful developments among the American Chinatowns. Traditionally, it was never part of the festival. This year, the stage was moved from Hing Hay Park to the gate. Some of the elders who live around the park liked the idea because they were farther from all the noise.
The popular Japanese Beer Garden was placed inside the old Uwajimaya’s parking lot. It sold lots of beer to customers who enjoyed drinking and eating outdoors.
Its new design brought business to the eateries close to the gate that were unable to take advantage of the festival in the past.
New vendors and lower fees
For years, the summer street fair had the same old arts and crafts vendors. This year, it drew new, interesting kinds of merchandise, such as Japanese Maples and Htavos, fun toys for both adults and kids.
The fee for these non-food vendors was reasonable, just $50, plus a percentage of its receipts. Many vendors prefer this system. Before, the fee was as high as $200.
To make up the revenue difference, Chinatown/ID Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) worked hard to get more corporate sponsors.
We spoke with six vendors and all have said that they would like to participate again next year.
Food trucks, not food booths
Another innovation was the new food trucks lining in Uwajimaya’s parking lot. Many of them served Asian fusion food.
The food trucks decreased the number of food booths and created a food pod-type environment.
Usually, these venues. which cater to the younger mainstream audience, tend not to compete with the existing ID restaurants. It provided an image that the festival was hip, youthful, and trendy.
There was something for everybody. Many Asian immigrants enjoyed getting freebies. The booths of McDonald’s and Snoqualmie Casino had lines from the moment they set up to the minute their gifts went out.
McDonald’s gave away more than 18,000 smoothies the first day. One person, who asked not to be identified, said she waited in line 12 times to get 12 cups of smoothies.
Snoqualmie Casino handed out eco bags, free bottled water, $5 coupons, and other goodies.
A welcomed mistake on the weather forecast
Last Friday morning, thunder blasted across the skies of Seattle in the morning and thunder was predicted again for Saturday.
Thankfully, the weatherman was dead wrong this time. There was no thunder or rain on Saturday to greet the crowds at Dragon Fest, only sun. On Sunday, visitors poured into the ID, despite a windy, cool, and cloudy weather.
In the past, Sunday’s traffic usually dwindled to half of Saturday’s total number of visitors. This year, both days attracted large crowds.
The crowd was estimated to be more than 25,000. It was certainly the best attendance I have seen in the past two decades.
Be givers, not just takers
If you were one of those who had fun at the festival this past weekend, don’t just come for the free gifts and food.
If you want to see the festival grow bigger and better each year, you need to be a giver, too. Support the vendors and businesses in the ID.
My family did their share by buying a Japanese maple tree and lunches from the food trucks. We also bought lunch for the volunteers who watched our booth. (end)