TAMPA — In recent years, Guavaween has gone through several incarnations as organizers tried to make it both family-friendly and profitable for local businesses.
This week, the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce decided it's time for someone else to run the pre-Halloween party, which dates to 1985 and used to feature a bawdy costume parade led by Mama Guava, a fictional character conceived, as the legend goes, in an unexplained dalliance between the pirate Jose Gaspar and a scrub palmetto.
The Ybor chamber, which has run the event for years, announced this week it will solicit bids from companies interested in running Guavaween 2014. Chamber chair David Alvarez hopes an event management company can boost attendance. Crowds once surpassed 50,000, but have dwindled since organizers started tweaking.
"We know that there's a model out there that can work, but we can't find it," Alvarez said.
In the 2000s, in response to complaints that booze, beads and exposed breasts had made the event too raunchy, Guavaween organizers started making changes. They got rid of motorized floats for the parade, then ditched the parade altogether. They stopped putting up fences around E Seventh Avenue to allow outside drinking. They tried making it a music festival.
Last year, local merchants said, Guavaween hit a nadir. A day event for families, called Fantasma Fest, and a nighttime costume contest caused barely a blip in business.
"It was just so dead," said Megan Hixon, assistant general manager at Green Iguana Bar & Grill.
"There was nothing going on," said Evan Schiller, part-owner of Gaspar's Grotto bar.
The chamber's Alvarez thinks a combination event for families and adults can still work, spread over one day or multiple days. If the chamber doesn't find a company this year, it will run Guavaween again.
"We're just looking to see who's interested," Alvarez said. "We used to get 60,000 to 80,000. … We believe that might be a possibility."
Even when Guavaween brought droves to Ybor City the Saturday before Halloween, it caused strife among merchants. Restaurants complained it scared diners away. Bars off Seventh Avenue and outside the fenced-off area complained it hurt their business.
To Ilya Goldberg, owner of the Stone Soup Company on E Seventh Avenue, the solution is simple: Guavaween worked best when it was a party. Merchants who complain about a party in Ybor shouldn't be in Ybor.
"They can go to Westchase, or up to Wesley Chapel, and set up shop on a nice, quiet street," Goldberg said.
"For years, Guavaween worked as an adult-based event, a big party, and a good time. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that," he said. "It's one night. We wake up, we have a hangover, we clean up and move on."
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]