Locals in Los Banos brave heat for Downtown Wine Stroll

dwitte@losbanosenterprise.comAugust 7, 2014 

A few hundred people livened a couple of blocks of Sixth Street in downtown Los Banos on Friday evening for the sixth annual Downtown Association Wine Stroll.

Twelve businesses in the area kept their doors open and served wine in an effort to promote both downtown and a sense of community.

“It’s really good for all the businesses because they get to showcase what they have in their stores, and we are really trying to revitalize downtown,” said Downtown Association President Donna Mendes, owner of Positive Changes. “The proceeds from the wine stroll go to downtown beautification.”

With redevelopment agencies eliminated by California Gov. Jerry Brown a few years back, the merchants of Los Banos’ downtown area re-started the Downtown Association.

“We’re coming up with projects. We’re brand new,” Mendes said. “We’re coming up with ideas, we are open to the citizens of Los Banos to contact anybody who belongs to the Downtown Association if there’s something they would like to see.

“It starts with the little things like keeping the streets clean or working with the birds and things like that.”

With both temperatures and humidity riding high when the event started, many of the business tried to keep refreshing snacks available along with other hors d’oeuvres. Mendes provided snacks with ingredients like lemon and cucumber to help cool down her patrons.

The Los Banos Chamber of Commerce featured live music from the Tomcats, led by Los Banos City Councilman Tom Faria.

“I think it’s the best thing to bring the community out and bring them downtown, and it kind of gets the newer community members down here,” Chamber Executive Director Bertha Faria said. “Many of them don’t realize we have a downtown. It gets them to be able to meet the merchants.

“It’s a really hometown feeling.”

The newcomer in downtown, Foundations Public Schools, used the event in part to get to know its downtown neighbors. The organization is a nonprofit that runs Green Valley Charter School.

“It was really important to us to join the Los Banos Downtown Association for a number of reasons, to connect with the others downtown, obviously for networking but more so, not just for our own business, but to keep Los Banos thriving. It’s important for us to be involved in that,” said Tisha Blackwood-Freitas, Foundations’ co-founder and CEO. “My mom’s had a business downtown for over 30 years, so I grew up down here. It’s just the place to be. It’s so wonderful to have that and now have our children growing up here.”

Across the street, wine-stroller Mike Minor enjoyed the conversations he had with his fellow Los Banosans.

“Oh, it’s a blast,” he said. “You get to see people you haven’t seen in a long time.”

As far as the benefit to Los Banos, Minor pointed to the half-cent sales tax that benefits the Los Banos police and fire departments.

“Keep everything local, keep the sales tax here in town,” he said.

Wine stroll patrons had a number of wines to choose from, ranging from S&L Vineyards’ Purple Paws and Bayview at Foundations Public Schools’ new office on the corner of Sixth and J streets to Guglielmo Sangiovese and champagne served by Darrell and Gail Lawrence at Health Time. Office City featured Casa de Fruta wines, with Suzanne Slater, a daughter of one of Casa de Fruta’s founders, serving along with her husband.

“It’s nice to talk to all the customers, and it’s an enjoyable evening for us,” Slater said. “We’ve been here since the first downtown stroll, and we’ve enjoyed being here.”

Joanne Hoefer, owner of Phoenix Books, bucked the trend and served beer in separate cups, saying it’s impossible to wash the beer flavor out of the souvenir wine glasses the wine strollers were given. She did so to promote a beer run next summer.

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