Strawberry Fest aims to promote Vashon’s own

One hundred years after the Strawberry Festival first began on Vashon, the event seems to be coming full circle, with an increased focus on Island artists, groups and businesses.

The vibrant celebration of Vashon, summer and fun takes place this weekend in town. A carnival, two parades and dozens of musical performances are coming up on July 17, 18 and 19. More than 25,000 people are expected to attend the festival, and there will be more than 150 booths selling items, experiences and food from around the world.

But for the first time, organizers are making sure festivalgoers know who and what is Island-based. Bright green signs adorned with a juicy strawberry will be posted, announcing the booths that are “homegrown Vashon vendors.”

“The festival committee has been trying for several years to turn the festival back around to really being a homegrown event, a Vashon Island event,” said Debi Richards, Vashon Chamber of Commerce office assistant. “We want people walking up and down the street to know these booths are represented by Vashon businesses and Vashon nonprofits.”

She said this year’s festival features 70 Vashon booths — 35 artists in Ober Park and 35 organizations and merchants on the street. Participation in both is way up from last year, Richards said.

“We’re up 30 percent in Ober Park, and we’re almost double on the street,” she said.

It’s fitting that the 100th Vashon festival is harkening back to its roots, said Lee Ockinga, executive director of the Vashon Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a way for us to remember our history,” she said.

The event has had many names and undergone several transformations — since 1909, it’s had stints as the Peach Festival, Harvest Festival and simply the Vashon Festival. But this year’s celebration, as in recent years, is in honor of what was once a major Island export — the ripe red strawberry.

Today, the berry has become synonymous with Vashon’s biggest party, Ockinga said, as well as an enormous family celebration.

“It represents family — family memories and family good times,” she said.

This year’s festival welcomes back some old favorites that have been missing for a few years, as well as many perennial fixtures.

Dozens of Island artists, selling wares as varied as beeswax candles and hand-thrown pottery, will set up shop in Ober Park. It’s a rare chance to meet and buy from the artisans behind many different media in the same place at the same time.

The Vashon High School marching band will play during the grand parade — a group that hasn’t hit the streets of Vashon for several years. The RhythmJoy samba dancers and drummers, lively and colorful performers, will share their rhythm — and joy — at the grand parade as well.

Historic hydroplane Miss Thriftway will again grace the streets in the grand parade, and afterward will be on display at the Vashon Plaza parking lot next to the beer garden.

The fire department’s dunk tank, where anyone can dunk a friend or foe, has had a four-year festival hiatus but returns this year. Proceeds from dunkings benefit the department’s charitable fund.

In general, Island merchants and groups are ramping up for a hot, sunny, eventful weekend.

“I always look forward to festival — I love festival,” said Linda Bianchi, president of the Vashon Chamber of Commerce. “It’s great for the artists, great for the little local businesses. I think it’s great for the overall economy not only of our merchants but all of our businesses, too.”

It’s a big deal, she added, that Vashon has been home to festivals for so many years.

Though the Island hasn’t hosted a festival every year since 1909 — during World War II, for example — that’s the year that Chamber officials believe the Strawberry Festival first took place.

“It is the 100th anniversary of festivals on Vashon — I think that is huge,” Bianchi said. “It is a very special number. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been doing a festival of some kind on Vashon for 100 years. It sounds like it is going to be great.”

For more information about Strawberry Festival, check out the following stories:

Festival schedule of events

Everything you need to know about festival music

Celebrating a century of Island festivals

Get ready for parades

Getting around the Island during the fest

Start the day the right way, with flapjacks and fun

Food, fun and fantastic music on tap at the beer garden

A few fun traditions are in the making

Fun abounds for the young and young at heart

Art in Ober Park

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