You could say it’s the best of times and the worst of times for Modesto’s annual Dickens Faire.
Organizers are in a dispute with the city over how it spends the $800 to $1,000 it receives from organizers to promote the fair and the city’s Celebration of Lights Parade, which begins after the Dickens event.
“My question is I still don’t know where our money is going,” said Sande Nerland, first vice president of the McHenry Mansion Foundation, which holds the annual fair the first Saturday in December just outside mansion, featuring 40 to 50 vendors staffing food and craft booths, carolers, Father Christmas and children’s activities.
Nerland said the fair draws about 2,500 people and does not make much money for the mansion. But she said the event shows off the historic home, which is decorated for the holidays. “People just love to come out for it,” she said. “It’s like the start of Christmas.”
Fair organizers collect $20 from each vendor and pay that to the city. Nerland said that practice was in place when she took over organizing the fair four years ago.
Nerland, Wayne Mathes, the city’s cultural services manager and a mansion foundation board member, and Marie Uber, the manager of the Modesto Certified Farmers Market, will meet with Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods officials Wednesday to talk about their concerns. The farmers market provides food vendors for the fair.
Nerland said she has asked Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods officials for three years to provide an accounting of how the city spends the $20 it collects from each vendor.
Nerland and Uber said a city official provided fair organizers with a list showing the money had been spent on fliers, posters and other advertising but did not include a financial breakdown. The two said the advertising appears to primarily promote the parade.
Nerland and Uber said that official also told them the money was being spent on portable toilets. Uber said the portables aren’t available until late in the day, and fairgoers use the restrooms at the mansion, mansion gift shop and nearby McHenry Museum.
Mary Otten, deputy director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods, said she was not aware that Nerland has not been able to get a financial accounting. But Otten said the city promotes the fair and parade with more than 300 posters, about 2,500 fliers, and ads on Modesto radio stations and in The Modesto Bee.
Otten said some of the conflict may be because the parade is growing and needs more room to stage floats and other entries. About 10,000 spectators line I and J and other downtown streets for the parade.
Mathes said he’d like the city to modify the parade route so the Dickens Faire can stay open longer and draw more people to downtown. The fair runs 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 7, and the parade starts at 5:30 p.m.