Unpermitted vendors could be putting San Jose's Christmas in the Park in jeopardy, organizers say

Winter Wonderland and Downtown Ice may not come back to Christmas in the Park this holiday season

Lauren Martinez Image
Saturday, June 24, 2023
Unpermitted vendors could put SJ's Christmas in the Park in jeopardy
Christmas in the Park organizers in San Jose say the massive event is at risk due to unpermitted vendors.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- We're talking about Christmas in June because organizers behind San Jose's Christmas in the Park say the massive event is at risk due to unpermitted vendors.

Third party companies are hesitant to return because they say unpermitted vendors that surround the event have become too big of a problem.

Charlyn Villegas is on the board of directors with Christmas in the Park.

Christmas in the Park is a nonprofit, led by volunteers. Villegas said planning this event that brings hundreds of thousands of people is a yearlong process.

Now less than six months out, the planning process has taken a turn.

"We work very closely with our partners Winter Wonderland as well as Downtown Ice. We were just notified Winter Wonderland and Downtown Ice may not come back this season. Which is actually posing a huge risk to our event and it's actually causing the viability of hosting it because we depend on the revenue from the Butler Amusement rides as well as the ice-skating rink," Villegas said.

Working around unpermitted vendors has reportedly become the issue.

"We were informed that due to the fact that the unpermitted vendors that are causing accessibility issues to the ice skating rink, to local businesses, to our event blocking cross walks, blocking sidewalks - it's pretty much gotten to a point where we've reached out to the city to ask for help," Villegas said.

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In a letter addressed to the mayor and city council members on June 6, Christmas in the Park explains they're at risk of losing Winter Wonderland - a partnership for more than 23 years. Winter Wonderland contracts with Butler Amusements that provide carnival food, rides and games.

"Not having anything, none of the rides or the carnival games would actually impact our revenue to a minimum of $55,000 that we usually depend on for our budget," Villegas said.

Debbie Degutis is the Managing Director of Christmas in the Park.

Degutis said what they heard from Winter Wonderland and Butler was that they're business in the Paseo where the small rides are - was impacted by vendors blocking the way to rides and games.

Not having those rides means they lose a minimum of $55,000 which is almost their profit for the year.

A spokesperson for Messenger Events, who hosts Winter Wonderland, released this statement:

"Butler Amusements will not return given the current landscape. There's still hope for them to return if the city can guarantee PD will enforce their own codes which should be protecting the vendor area permitted by Winter Wonderland."

ABC7 asked Messenger Events if there was a number or percentage of revenue Winter Wonderland was missing out on because of unpermitted vendors. The released this statement:

Generally speaking, due to a smaller available activation area and the cart vendors undermining the business, Winter Wonderland now makes about 25% what the event was making in 2019 (so down 75%).

Third party vendors have not given a firm no, so Christmas in the Park members have hope.

"We feel that if they get a clear message from the city that action will be taken in the form of code enforcement - then our hope is they will return this year," Villegas said.

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Organizers estimate 40 unpermitted hotdog vendors surround Christmas in the Park - and other unpermitted vendors are just selling goods.

Street vendor activist Edin Enamorado has been an advocate for the past six years.

"The majority of event goers go to these events. They eat at the event. They don't eat before. They eat after. So like I said, if you have good food and you have a good selection you have nothing to worry about," Enamorado said.

Enamorado suggests the City of San Jose and Christmas in the Park members somehow include all vendors in this beloved, free, community event.

If the issue is permitting vendors, he suggests the city follow what San Diego officials have done.

"I like the way the city of San Diego has acted toward vendors, instead of them expecting vendors to come to the Department of Public Health building, they go out there and inspect vendors and they give them their permits right then and there," Enamorado said.

MORE: Christmas in the Park returns to San Jose, with sentimental meaning for some

The 33rd annual Christmas in the Park opened in San Jose and officials say they're expecting over one million people to walk through the gates.

Mayor Matt Mahan said he does not want contracted vendors to feel their business is being undermined because of unfair competition.

"I want to acknowledge they are hardworking people trying to make a living and I think it's important to have that empathy, but that being said, we have a health code, we do have some basic laws on the books for a reason and we certainly don't want to ignore those," Mayor Mahan said.

The mayor said this issue will require connecting with police, code enforcement and partners with the county to discuss further.

A San Jose city spokesman released this statement below:

This is a complicated issue as the City's tools for enforcement are limited. We want to support the vendors - as small businesses and residents working to make a living and as contributors to a vibrant Downtown and City. But public safety and the success of our Downtown events needs to be a top consideration too.

Vendors that block flows of traffic risk pushing people into the streets or cooking equipment. When there are too many vendors, everyone's experience diminishes, and it undermines the permitted event operators and businesses. We are concerned about propane tanks and health hazards too - although the County Health department is responsible for regulating the food carts from that perspective.

The goal is to find solutions that enable vendors to sell legally, support public safety and health, and ensure the success of our Downtown events and venues.

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