By Brian Park
The Fiesta Association, the all-volunteer group which organizes the historic Swallows Day Parade in San Juan Capistrano, announced Wednesday evening they will not be serving beer this year during the parade’s companion event, the Mercado.
Citing a rise in alcohol-related incidents during the Mercado over the last several years, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is restricting beer sales to two hours, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., according to Kathy Hooper, Mercado chairperson and Fiesta board member.
However, board members said it wasn’t financially prudent to open the Mercado’s beer garden for just two hours, so they decided to do away with beer sales entirely.
Last year, sheriff’s deputies made eight arrests during the Mercado. “More so than raw numbers, we just have a really rowdy group and severely intoxicated individuals in and around the beer garden. It’s a drain on staff,” said Lt. John Meyer, the city’s chief of police services.
“My first priority is public safety and keeping it safe for everybody to attend,” Lt. Meyer said. “Not so much to douse tradition but to keep it safe.”
Setting up the beer garden costs the Fiesta Association $10,000, but according to Hooper, leaving it open for only two hours would result in an $8,000 loss. The shortest amount of time needed to earn a profit is three to four hours, said Hooper, but Lt. Meyer would not go beyond two.
While some Fiesta members said eliminating beer sales would make the Mercado a more family-friendly event, others were more critical, with one member going so far as to call it, “one more nail in the coffin of the Swallows.”
Board members said the space that would have been reserved for the beer garden might now be used for up to three additional vendors.
“We won’t make the same profit, but we won’t lose as much,” Hooper said.
Meanwhile, local restaurants, such as El Adobe de Capistrano and Sarducci’s, often organize their own beer and alcohol sales outside their buildings and in their parking lots during the Mercado. Those businesses are likely to receive more scrutiny this year, according to some Fiesta members.
The 55th Swallows Day Parade and Mercado are scheduled to take place Saturday, March 23. For more information, visit the Fiesta Association’s website at www.swallowsparade.com.