Christmas in the Park is at risk of losing some of its magic this year due to unpermitted vendors crowding the streets and sidewalks—but the groups that host the downtown San Jose celebration aren’t ready to give up just yet.
Event organizers said unpermitted food vendors pack the streets every year at the annual winter holiday festivities, creating accessibility issues for families and preventing permitted vendors from selling their goods to park-goers.
Debbie Degutis, managing director of Christmas in the Park, said the problem has only gotten worse each year and has reached 40-plus unpermitted vendors. She said the city has refused to crack down on these vendors, citing issues with optics in years past.
“This has been a problem for a long time,” she told San José Spotlight. “But it’s gone unchecked in the city of San Jose.”
Degutis submitted a letter to the San Jose City Council earlier this week in an effort to get the city to enforce permit laws. In the letter, Degutis wrote the downtown festivities have lost Winter Wonderland’s vendor, Butler Amusements, and may lose significant revenue usually generated by the amusement park rides.
The Christmas in the Park nonprofit met with Councilmember Omar Torres, who represents the downtown area, last week to voice concerns.
Torres did not respond to a request for comment.
Butler Amusements has said it will not return this year if the vendor overcrowding doesn’t improve. Winter Wonderland, adjacent to the Christmas in the Park festivities on Paseo de San Antonio, has provided amusement park rides and games for 23 years.
Annie Hermes, owner of Messenger Events, the company that hosts Winter Wonderland, said if Butler Amusements doesn’t return, there is a high likelihood there will be no Winter Wonderland this year. She said if Butler Amusements drops out, Christmas in the Park will lose an estimated $55,000 in revenue.
“Right now, I couldn’t sell it to another company,” Hermes told San José Spotlight. “I could not convince them to come given what we’re experiencing with the unpermitted vendors.”
Hermes said in past years, there have been daily confrontations between permitted and unpermitted vendors, resulting in a physical altercation one year.
Degutis also said if unpermitted vendors continue to go unchecked, the event could lose some of its longtime vendors.
“This is the hot chocolate vendor. This is a churro guy,” she said. “You know, they’re part of our Christmas in the Park family. We want them there.”
Unpermitted vendors affect the ice-skating rink run by the San Jose Downtown Association, blocking entry to the rink.
“People feel bothered by them because there’s so many of them, and they’re in such close proximity to the location,” Alex Stettinski, executive director of SJDA, told San José Spotlight. “People don’t feel necessarily safe or comfortable.”
Stettinski said the association hasn’t secured a producer of the rink yet, but is still negotiating. He said it’s on the right track to getting an ice rink, but if it falls through, the association will provide another winter activity.
Both Degutis and Hermes said they’re optimistic about this year’s festivities and believe the city council can come up with a solution.
Hermes said keeping the downtown tradition alive is crucial to help families create memories during the holiday season. She remembers going downtown to participate in the merriment as a child, and she takes her children every year.
“It’s part of growing up and living in San Jose,” she said.
For Degutis, the event is important because of its accessibility. Christmas in the Park is free to enter.
“The Google billionaire and the Google janitor have the same fun, have the same joy,” she said. “It’s pretty much the only thing in San Jose that gives us that equal space for community.”