Gilroy Garlic Festival: Multiple factors behind event's decline and evolution

It has been a tradition in Gilroy for 42-years. But the Gilroy Garlic Festival will not be returning this year and may never again be what it once was.

Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy is the center of all the action every summer. But the pandemic, the shooting in 2019, and changes in insurance markets have now made it impossible for festival organizers to continue the tradition.

Tom Cline is a Garlic Festival Board Member. "We have worked hard to try to challenges that we have currently, but we could just not get over that," Cline said.

Cline said the festival has actually been losing money for much of the last decade.   But with no revenue during the pandemic, the shooting in 2019, and an inability to get the kind of insurance required for the venue, it makes it impossible to continue in its current form.

"That business model here at Christmas Hill was not sustainable. The houses showed up, we could not park here anymore, the cost of the bussing. All of these things were just prohibitive for us," Cline said.

The Garlic Festival is one of the Bay Area’s summer rites of passage and also means a lot for the town.  It has raised over $12 million for local charities over its history.

But it also brings business into the city to local merchants like the Princess Boutique.  "This brings people in. You know it puts the town on the map.  So it is going to hurt everything economically," said owner Pete Landeros. 

Landeros is a Gilroy native and actually attended the very first Garlic Festival in 1979.   "That’s what this festival is all about. It brings people downtown and it helps businesses," Landeros said.

Gilroy resident Morgan Howard used to be a festival volunteer and feels the loss is significant for the Gilroy community.  "You can smell it in the air," Howard said of the garlic cooking at the festival. "And that is the best part is all the food. The food is what brings everybody together. We all enjoy it. It is just a commonality for the community. "

While the festival is going away in its current form there will be a series of smaller events including a golf tournament, country music festival, and a farm-to-table dinner.  The hope is to continue at least some tradition of charitable giving.