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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

There were plenty of cowboy hats, smiles, and people on the streets of Downtown San Juan Capistrano for the 62nd annual Swallows Day Parade and Mercado Street Faire.

The event returned on Saturday, March 12, after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 62nd edition of the yearly parade was supposed to happen in March 2020, but the emergence of the pandemic right before the scheduled date prompted an indefinite postponement.

Many people who lined up on Camino Capistrano before the parade began were glad to see the festivities return.

“We’re glad. We’re very happy that they’re back,” said Laguna Niguel resident Mindy Pizzo. “We’re kind of sad the horses aren’t going to be here, but we’re still here to support the parade.”

Horses were removed from the event days beforehand because of an equine virus outbreak. The parade still featured people and groups walking down the street and waving to the crowd—including from the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society, American Legion Post 721, and the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center. Some parade walkers carried horse dolls to keep the equestrian spirit alive.

Scott Mueller of Huntington Beach, who came to see the parade with Mizzo, said he has been coming to check out the big day since the early 2000s.

“I never missed a year until the pandemic hit,” Mueller said. “The shutdown’s been terrible for everybody. It is what it is. We lived through it, and here we are.”

Pizzo and Mueller, like many enjoying the sunny day, were decked out in Western wear. Cowboy boots, plaid shirts, and Western dancing were common sights on Saturday.

San Clemente resident Jim Black was camped out in a lawn chair as he waited for the parade to get going. It was his first time ever catching the Swallows Day Parade, since he just moved to the area.

“We’ve got grandkids in the parade from Del Obispo Elementary School,” Black said. “I think it’s great. It’s a small town-type feeling where everybody kind of knows everybody. Getting the community back together is extremely important.”

The Mercado Street Faire, located just off the main parade route, by Historic Town Center Park, was open for paradegoers throughout the day. Food and merchandise vendors were at the faire, and families wandered around to enjoy the festivities.

Ortega’s Capistrano Trading Post, a souvenir shop, reopened for the big day after being closed since August after a vehicle rammed into the store.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department was on hand to monitor the event which they said was “safe” and had no incidents, meaning there were no arrests or violent incidents.

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