It’s a Tuesday morning, and Kurt Tallis is spray painting lines on Fifth Street near Fourth Avenue.
He’s in the middle of what is always one of his busiest work weeks each year.
“What we’re doing today is painting the food courts,” Tallis said. “At the street fair, we have four different food courts, two of which are really big.”
Tallis works for the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association, and one of his duties is running the long-standing, biannual Fourth Avenue Street Fair, which will be taking place Dec. 13-15.
The fair usually draws hundreds of thousands of people, and its vendors and Fourth Avenue merchants make millions in sales over the weekend event.
Starting this Friday morning, cars won’t be traveling along the Fourth Avenue roads. Instead, food vendors will sell barbecue, roasted corn, funnel cake, and many other goodies.
The 400 artisans in attendance, and the crowd they attract, promise a busy time for the vendors.
Each of them rents square footage along the avenue when the fair takes place. And Tallis is marking each plot, so each business gets exactly what it paid for.
Precision is important, he said.
“If you’re off by inches, it’ll throw you off,” Tallis explained. “We don’t want to end up in intersections. We’ve found that when we change our numbers in any way, shape or form, add a booth, take a booth away, it changes everything.”
The merchants association has been perfecting that formula for nearly 45 years now.
The fair is a major economic boom for the area. Estimates are almost 300,000 people will walk Fourth Avenue during the event. And those potential costumers mean big business for those with spots at the the fair.
“One time, I didn’t place the nut guy,” Tallis said. “He’s not a nut he sells nuts, he sells roasted almonds and that’s all he sells. I didn’t place him in a show and he’s in my office freaking out, and he says, ‘You don’t understand Kurt, I do $15,000 a show!' The nut guy. I have a jeweler who does $40,000 a show. I have painters who’ll do tens of thousands a show.”
Thousands of dollars each for 450 vendors is a big economic impact for one weekend.
“Probably about half of my income is from doing art shows,” said metalwork artist Mary Beier.
She travels from Phoenix twice a year for the Fourth Avenue Street Fair.
The other half of her income is from repeat customers, and it’s at events like this that she often establishes those relationships.
“I get 5,000 people walking through my booth that wouldn’t be (there) if I were in my studio working," she said.
And it’s not just the temporary booths on Fourth Avenue that do big business.
Craig Wilson owns Creative Ventures Craft Mall, a retail shop that’s been on Fourth Avenue for 20 years. The fair brings in big business for him.
“Really, it probably counts for about five percent of the year, those three days,” he said. “It’s a huge impact. And it’s not just a selling tool, it’s an advertising tool because we get all of these people coming through our store.”
And Creative Ventures may be on the low end.
Wilson said, in the early years of his shop, the street fair that takes place during the winter made up a higher percentage of his business, and some shop owners will do as much as 20 percent of their annual sales that weekend.
As a result, retailers start thinking about the fair far in advance.
“We start planning two months out inventory wise,” Wilson said. "What we’re going to be bringing in.”
The shop owners are not too concerned with the street fair acting as competition either, because there is a lot of business to go around.
If 300,000 people show up, they don’t have to spend much money for millions of dollars to change hands.
Another reason is the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association does what it can to ensure that there’s not too much overlap competition.
A prime example of that effort is beer sales at the fair.
“Beer at the street fair, Golden Eagle is our sponsor, so Bud, Bud Light, stuff like that,” Tallis said. “The reason we sell Bud and Bud Light on the street is we don’t want to compete against (the Fourth Avenue) restaurants and bars.”
And event planners do what they can to ensure shop owners are not inconvenienced by a lack of access to their usual amenities.
Such a case is the section of Fifth Street near Magpie’s Pizza. Tallis makes sure that booths don’t block an alley that runs behind the restaurant.
“They still have to operate their business, so we have the street fair, they’ll be selling tons of pizza, but they still have deliveries,” Tallis explained. “The delivery guy still has to get in and out with his car, so we make accommodations for that.”
And there’s good reason for that accommodation.
“They’re a small business and they don’t want to lose any part of their business, because what they make this time of year is their Christmas," Tallis said.
Tallis stressed that notion repeatedly throughout the conversation. All vendors and shop owners depend on the street fair for their livelihood.
“Each one represents a business,” he said. "Each one represents a household, a rent, a mortgage.”
And many of those people live in the area.
The shop owners are accompanied by a large contingent of artisans who make Southern Arizona their home.
“A full third of our artists are local,” Tallis said. “We don’t give a preference to locals, but it seems to work out that way every year.”
That means much of the money spent at the Fourth Avenue Street Fair this weekend will stay in the area.