Denver’s Cinco de Mayo festival returns Saturday and Sunday to a newly renovated civic center park after a pandemic-forced two-year hiatus — and few are happier to see it back than David Martinez, one of 40 food vendors who hope that the event will attract a large crowd.
Food stall operators like Martinez have suffered a double whammy during the pandemic – losing regular restaurant customers, while watching the cancellation of major events which, in a good year, can deliver 2,000 customers to his stand. Tacos and Salsa catering.
When the pandemic started, Tacos y Salsa had 14 stores in the metro area. But because of COVID-19, the family has scaled back operations at their original restaurant on East Colfax, founded by Martinez’s father, Miguel, in 1999.
“Everyone has had a hard time,” said Andrea Barela, president and CEO of the nonprofit NEWSED Community Development Corporation, producer of Cinco, which took over the festival in 1988 in what is today. today’s Santa Fe Arts District and turned it into a mega-event. at Civic Center Park, drawing 400,000 people before the pandemic.
This weekend’s festival will be the park’s biggest since a series of pandemic-related shocks led to its closure last year.
“Cinco de Mayo, with its historic significance, is one of the park system’s signature events,” said Cyndi Karvaski, spokeswoman for Denver Parks and Recreation.
In 2020, the park’s pavilions and Great Lawn suffered repeated assaults – a deluge of city camping, drug-related activity and civil unrest that damaged monuments and graffiti and its grassy expanses stripped of vegetation.
Citing a significant health risk, the city closed the park on September 15 and began a stem-to-stern restoration, including landmark repairs, new lights, an improved camera system, new trees and flowerbeds. flowers, overseeding and thorough pressure washing.
Park staff staged a phased reopening in time for a holiday event in December and were ready for the smaller 420 festival last month. Karvaski said some repairs are still underway and some grassy areas are only open to walkways, a strategy she says has prevented damage from recurring.
Barela said the festival will feature 150 vendors as well as three stages of mariachi, salsa and norteño music, a community parade (11 a.m. to noon Saturday), a taco contest, a lowrider car show and a chihuahua race. .
Cinco de Mayo, she says, is not Mexico’s Independence Day (it’s September 16). Rather, it celebrates the 1862 Battle of Puebla in which the Mexican army defeated a French force twice as large.
In Mexico, the anniversary includes battle re-enactments, but Cinco has become a bigger affair in the United States, where Californians began celebrating it in 1863 and a Broadway Fiesta in downtown Los Angeles drew up to ‘to 600,000 people at its peak in 1992. Major festivals are also held. in Phoenix, San Antonio and Chicago.
The Denver case reverberates through mini-events at area taverns. Ron Vaughn, co-owner of Argonaut Liquor eight blocks east of the park, estimates that in addition to higher beer sales (Mexican labels are very popular now), the store will sell about 20 cases of tequila during vacations.
When it took over Cinco de Mayo in 1988, NEWSED used the profits to promote retail development along Santa Fe at a time when downtown Denver was losing residents. Now, Barela says, the event supports NEWSED’s work with the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, promoting homeownership for people at or below the area’s median income.
Events begin at 10 a.m. each day and continue until 8 p.m., including Sundays.
“It’s Mother’s Day, but what better place to bring mom,” said Barela, who will bring her mother, Veronica, who ran Cinco de Mayo for 30 years before retiring in 2017.