Each year, thousands flock to Santa Barbara Old Spanish Days Fiesta Mercado at De La Guerra Plaza to enjoy tacos, tortas, and dance performances at what 2021 La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow describes as the “backbone” of Fiesta activities.
Last year, many of Fiesta’s signature festivities, including its popular mercados and parades, were canceled due to the summer surge of COVID-19. Though plans were made to revive most of the early-August in-person celebrations this year, another spike in cases has forced organizers to cancel the De la Guerra Mercado just days before it was set to begin.
The event was canceled out of abundance of caution due to the spike of the COVID-19 Delta variant, according to a statement released by Petlow this morning, and based on “extensive review” with health officials.
“It is important that we keep our families, visitors, and community safe,” Petlow said
The cancelation is just the latest in a string of announcements made at the state, county, and city levels concerning the rise in cases, and a stark contrast from the early summer trajectory where mandates and restrictions were being lifted and public gatherings were returning. Since then, a steep rise in cases reminiscent of the previous summer has sent public health officials scrambling to contain further spread and encourage all those eligible to get vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them.
“This decision was not an easy one as we deliberated extensively with counsel from the public health agency and experts from within our health-care community,” Petlow said.
According to the latest reports in Santa Barbara county, there has been a 400 percent higher case rate over the past month and a 71 percent increase of patients in an ICU in Santa Barbara county. The organizers of Old Spanish Days took these numbers into account, ultimately deciding to cancel Mercado De la Guerra “due to the volume of people who pass through the Mercado on an hourly basis” for the four days of the event.
“As much as we would love to bring the entire Mercado experience to the Santa Barbara community, [we] recognize our higher duty to preserve the health and welfare of our community, especially our elders and those that are infirmed,” Petlow said. “We are concerned about our families, grandparents, children, and visitors in the community, and we want to make sure everyone remains healthy.”
Though the directors point to COVID as the sole reason behind the cancelation, the short turnaround between the announcement of this year’s amended festivities and the date of the event made it difficult for organizers to get everything in place, according to sources who have worked closely with Fiesta Mercado in the past. The event, which is one of the only sanctioned events to draw revenue for Old Spanish Days, has taken a hit in recent years and was unlikely to draw a profit this year. The nonprofits such as Casa de la Raza who sell food every year at the plaza will be forced to go yet another year without the opportunity to raise funds.
COVID contributed heavily to the decision to cancel many of last year’s Fiesta activities and drastically altered this year’s. Without the parade or its main mercado, Old Spanish Days will be much different than previous decades. Still, the organizers are looking toward 2022 and a full return to the traditional Santa Barbara celebration.
“It is extremely hard to make this decision; however, we look forward to the mercados having a grand return in 2022,” Petlow said.
Old Spanish Days will still be hosting Fiesta Pequeña on August 4, Noches de Ronda August 5-7, and Tardes de Ronda on August 7. Other events still set to be hosted in the community include Our Lady of Guadalupe Mercado at 227 North Nopal Street, which features authentic Mexican food and music.