By Susie Ling
Before August of 1992, Monrovia did not have a weekly Family Festival on Myrtle! A generation later, Friday Fair is part of the rhythm and culture of Monrovia. Now a well-oiled machine, the petting zoo, the farmers, the vendors, the musicians, and thousands of folks congregate every Friday. There’s kettle corn, giant inflated bouncers, agua fresca and rum cake, and plenty of babies and puppies to admire.
Monrovia Mayor from 2003 to 2009, Rob Hammond, tells about the founding of Family Festival in a recent interview, “On Friday nights in the late 1980s, you could shoot a canon up Myrtle Avenue and no one would notice; it was that quiet. There were about 30-35% vacancies. With a two-lane street and low ‘car count,’ we would never attract big national chain stores on this street.”
Rob Hammond was a new entrepreneur on the 600 block of Myrtle. Raised in Rosemead, he came to live in Monrovia in 1986 with his bride and new baby. He had some experience in antiques elsewhere, and he became a frequent customer at Neighborhood Pawn. “It was kismet,” he said. The shop has been open since 1946 but it was now needing some new energy. Rob became a partner in 1989. “Monrovia has been good to us; everyone is always nice.”
By virtue of his business address, Rob was a member of the Monrovia Old Town Merchants Association (MOTMA). “At that time, we had meetings at Glendale Fed (now Wells Fargo) or Herb’s Deli and Cafe (now Copper Still Grill) and about nine or ten of us would show. MOTMA had some promotions like coloring contests and seeds give-aways, but they weren’t really working. On our Halloween Trick or Treat afternoon, we might give away 3000 pieces of candy.” The Monrovia Day parade and Christmas parade reminded all that Myrtle Avenue is the historic heart of this city, but it did not significantly enhance revenue for the small businesses.
“For about five years, there was a farmers’ market at the Library Park but it was less than economically viable. That farmers’ market was subsidized by the Business Improvement District (BID).” Hammond collaborated with Dave Gayman of Valley Hardware (now Pinkberry Yogurt), and Kurt Anderson of Mona’s Auto Parts (now Jake’s). “We had heard that San Dimas’ Bonita Avenue had a farmers’ market on Wednesday nights that we had to go see. We came to know Harry Brown-Hiegel, manager of Southland Farmers’ Market. We wanted him. Monrovia City was cooperative.” It was still an uphill battle. Hammond continued, “We wanted to close the street. We wanted to bring in a party with petting zoo, kids’ stuff, music, and vendors. People thought that if we closed the street from Olive to Lemon, life as we know it would come to an end. Residential neighbors had parking and noise concerns.”
“Harry Brown-Hiegel was already committed on Wednesdays, so we chose Thursdays. But Harry couldn’t do Thursdays either so that’s how we stumbled into Friday evenings,” laughed Hammond. “We had our big kick-off. Mayor Bartlett rung a bell, which I still have. Volunteers were all gathered; we had police officers on overtime. Our plan was to go ten Fridays to Christmas. We would then reassess. I diligently counted the first night and we had about 1500 visitors. After it was all over, I was pushing the broom on Myrtle and found $20 cash. Sweet. We always went to Spires on Huntington afterwards. Family Festival was a raging success. And the numbers remained solid each subsequent week. Restaurants were reporting that they made a week’s profit from Friday nights. Today, businesses are attracted to Myrtle Avenue because of Friday Family Festival. Now, we close the streets for all kinds of fun events.”
Hammond said, “Our movie theater at the Huntington Oaks Center closed. We thought to bring movies back to Myrtle Avenue. We merchants courted George Krikorian; we brought him to Myrtle on a Friday night. There used to be a gym, parking lot, and Le Papillon restaurant on the 400 block. Still, residents who feared movie theaters organized as ‘Save Our Downtown’. The movie theater passed on a slim 54-46% city-wide vote.” This summer, Krikorian became Studio Movie Grill.
Hammond and Gayman received Monrovia’s Chamber of Commerce’s Iris Award for their 50-hour/week volunteer job. Anderson deserved it too. After a couple of years, Hammond decided he had many more ideas for Monrovia, so he ran for City Council. Since 2011, Hammond has been serving on the Monrovia School Board.