Dirk Winter, owner of Moonstone Hotels (Cambria Pines Lodge and other lodgings), wanted to hear from local businesspeople about the lodge’s annual Cambria Christmas Market. So he hosted some brainstorming sessions about the topic.
According to www.cambriachristmasmarket.com, the light-show festival and shopping venue is to be open from 5 to 9 p.m. on selected days from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the Friday before Christmas. It’s scheduled to be the market’s fifth holiday season.
Winter estimates the show will include “very close to a million LED lights” in displays at the lodge and at the nearby Cambria Nursery.
The market’s original purpose was to add business during a time of year that had been traditionally slow in Cambria, he said, so businesses could “survive in a low-occupancy month.”
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The business meetings
Winter scheduled three think-tank-style sessions on June 7, 8 and 9, with one each for East Village, West Village and Moonstone Beach Drive businesses respectively.
Market Coordinator George Marschall had alerted entrepreneurs about the meetings with Kelly-green invitations that read, in part, “your input is highly valued and appreciated” and that topics might include “parking, transportation, ticket sales, hotel packages (and) getting the market visitors into town to shop and stay overnight.”
Nearly a dozen people came to the first meeting, representing a variety of Cambria business categories from areas including Moonstone Beach. One person attended the June 8 session, Winter said on Monday, June 13, and nobody came to the June 9 gathering.
Three people at the June 7 meeting are members of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors: Marschall, Jennifer Perryman of The Cambrian and Gayle Jenkins of A Matter of Taste. Other attendees represented restaurants, lodgings, retail shops and an upscale market.
Winter told the June 7 participants that permits for the market are to be reviewed and issued by the county this year, and that the application should be considered at a Planning Department hearing in mid-July.
In previous years, single-year permits came from the California Coastal Commission, which had taken jurisdiction over the event in part because the rare, protected Monterey pine forest area surrounding the lodge is deemed “environmentally sensitive habitat area,” as is nearly all of Cambria.
The market sets up now on lodge grounds and at Cambria Nursery.
We’re trying to avoid having too much traffic on Burton Drive.
Dirk Winter, Cambria Pines Lodge owner
Winter said he hopes the county will grant him a five-year permit this year, with annual reviews “to discuss tweaking it.” He’s hopeful that the permit will be issued earlier in the year than it was for previous markets.
“It’s very hard to plan, deal with vendors and sell tickets online when you don’t get the permit until two weeks before the market starts,” he said.
His ultimate aim is to sell all tickets online, which might mean tickets could have specific admission times.
Ticket costs vary by day, so crowds can be equalized, he said, with an approximate maximum of 3,000 people per day.
Parking issues to address
Winter also wants to improve the evolving plans for parking and shuttling market attendees to the lodge, and hopes that he’ll be able to have the shuttles turn around on lodge property to keep them out of nearby neighborhoods.
“We’re trying to avoid having too much traffic on Burton Drive,” he said.
Attendees said they hope more attendees spend time shopping or dining in downtown Cambria before they go to the market.
Winter urged the entrepreneurs to stay open later so people who take early tours through the market will be able to shop after their visits to the lights and Santa Claus.
Among other suggestions discussed during the June 7 meeting:
▪ Offering sales, discount coupons and participation in shared “shop in Cambria” ads and fliers, Winter said. The fliers could be distributed with ticket purchases. Participating businesses also might be able to promote their special deals on the market’s website, he said.
▪ Allowing riders to get on and off the shuttle in other areas besides designated parking lots and the market.
▪ Shortening long waits for Santa visits and photographs, and making sure Santa handles his duties like the pro he is. Attendees also discussed having Santa greet children downtown on selected afternoons.
▪ Reviving trolley service during December (if not year round), with later service that would allow motel guests to have drinks with dinner and not worry about driving safely.
▪ Improving the many “No Event Parking” signs that blanketed the area, and posting fewer of those signs designed to keep market attendees out of residential neighborhoods and other areas that had been negatively impacted by the crowds.
▪ Keeping prime downtown parking spaces open, such as along Burton Drive, for people shopping or dining in those areas, rather than having marketgoers park there for longer times.
▪ Repairing, improving and providing lighting on the steep stairway from near the Burton Drive Bridge to the hilltop leading to the lodge. Winter said the stairs will be repaired, but he’s not sure he could get a permit for permanent lighting there.
▪ Increasing the festive atmosphere in downtown Cambria to encourage attendees to shop and dine there. “If you do better, we do better,” Winter said. “We don’t make our money on the market. We make money renting more rooms.”
▪ Improving safety for people walking from the nursery to the lodge and back. Winter said the county is to put a crosswalk there (and maybe someday a sidewalk along the cypress hedge), and he’ll be hiring professionals to guide traffic and pedestrians there this year.