YBOR — Guavaween began 25 years ago the same way it will be celebrated Saturday: with costumed revelers carousing around the streets of Ybor City on roller skates, bicycles, wagons, stilts or feet.
Motorized floats, however, won't be part of the parade as the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce continues to push a restyled event for the second year in a row. The aim is a more authentic Guavaween that encourages neighborhood participation and promotes local businesses better.
Tom Keating, president and CEO of the chamber, calls the revamped Guavaween an "organic celebration."
But Ybor business owners, who experienced a poor turnout last year, call the reformatted event downright scary, spooky and suspicious — and not in a happy Halloween sort of way.
"Last year was pretty slow here and the biggest gripe or the difference that we noticed was no floats," said Eric DeWolf, manager of Carmine's Restaurant. "That was one of the bigger causes for it to crap out and that's what we're expecting this year. We're hoping for the best."
Guavaween began decades ago when chamber members visited Key West's Fantasy Fest and decided they wanted a comparable fundraising event. So they created the annual Tampa Halloween tradition in 1985 and named it after a longtime columnist's nickname for the city, "the Big Guava."
At first, the Guavaween parade was a small march of actors and artists with elaborate and satirical costumes. Over time, it transformed into a rolling procession of extravagant floats with a beads-for-boobs and beer-into-brawling reputation that drew huge crowds but disturbed others.
The crowds dwindled in recent years from more than 50,000 to about 30,000 in 2008. Lagging attendance, as well as massive cleanup and security costs, prompted the chamber to scale back, switch gears and ban motorized floats.
Many of Tampa's krewes dropped out of the parade and attendance took a hit. Between 15,000 and 20,000 attended the night parade last year.
Ybor businesses worry it'll be more of the same this year, and they decry the cost of tickets at the door — $17 — and the fencing off of portions of Seventh Avenue for paying participants.
"It's one of the biggest days of the year for this particular business and it's one thing that we really count on every year," DeWolf said. "The previous years, business had been pretty strong for Guavaween and the only thing we noticed as a difference was the floats."
Vicki Doble, owner of the Tampa Bay Brewing Co., said beads and floats were the main reason people came to Guavaween.
"The other thing that turns people off is to pay $17 to get in, $20 to park. Most of the places have a cover charge, too. So that means $50 before they can drink," she said. "If you're going to be charging that much, you've got to give people more than a walking parade."
Steve Lavelle, manager of the Green Iguana Bar and Grill, estimated his business decreased by 30 percent last year.
"I like the direction they're trying to turn it, going back to its roots without floats," he said. "But then again for $17, that's what you expect: floats."
But floats aren't coming back this year or next, Keating said.
"I want to give it three years if we can," he said. "I would say most of the (Ybor business) ownership is behind this, but we're caught in this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't position. Most bars just want a bigger night, which is why they want more people. Other people want a higher quality parade."
Keating wants both: huge crowds and a distinctive festival with nationally known bands and acts. He views this year as transitional. The chamber's longtime contract with CC Event Productions Inc. of Tampa is up. Keating has invited national festival planners to attend Guavaween on Saturday and bid on a future contract for the annual celebration.
"This is one of the top 13 Halloween events in the country," said Keating, who views Busch Gardens and Orlando theme park Halloween events as Guavaween's main competition.
The chamber could return to CC Event Productions, Keating said.
"We love Ybor City," said Teresa Cox Hickey, the company's president. "If the event needs new life, great. If we get to continue with the event, great as well."
This year, Cox Hickey said her group has worked toward resolving concerns from 2009.
The daytime Family FunFest, which includes trick-or-treating and story time for kids, will return and remain free.
The Mama Guava Stumble Parade contest will be judged on an outdoor stage at Seventh Avenue and 18th Street after being held in a venue that was too crowded last year.
Discounted tickets are available. Groups of 10 pay $15 per person; groups of 20, $12.50 per person; and groups of 50, $10 each.
Also, Features Costumes shop in South Tampa continues to sell tickets for $12. And those who participate in the parade can receive a $3 rebate afterward, Cox Hickey said.
Organizers think the recession has more to do with the decreasing Guavaween attendance figures and not a lack of floats.
"People are spending less," Keating said. "Times are tough."
Family FunFest: Free for children and families between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in Ybor City. Includes trick-or-treating, live entertainment, spooky story time, pumpkin decorating, hands-on activities, pumpkin giveaway, sports mascot and cheerleader appearances, and a children's costume parade and contest.
Guavaween Night of Costumed Revelry: Starts after 3 p.m. for adults and costs $17. Bands including Genitorturers, Saving Abel, Fuel, Hail the Villain, We Are the Fallen and Through You will perform at a stage at Seventh Avenue and 14th Street.
The 2010 Mama Guava Stumble Parade: Begins at 8:30 p.m. on Seventh Avenue and is open to everyone.
The 2010 Costume Contest: Begins at 10 p.m. at Seventh Avenue and 18th Street, includes the categories: Most elaborate, best couple, best group, best look-alike, best cross-dresser, best kink, most sexy or best body, most unexpected and best overall, which will earn a $2,000 prize.
Advance tickets can be purchased for $12 at Features Costumes, 3015 W Barcelona St., Tampa. Call (813) 835-0200.