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Sleepy Tuesdays wake up with Surf City Nights

It nearly has everything you want, all enclosed in one space.

Fresh produce, food, jewelry, a bounce house for the kids and the freedom to walk through the streets without worrying about a vehicle running into you — where could this place possibly be? It is the Surf City Nights farmers' market held in Downtown Huntington Beach.

Now in its sixth year of operation, this weekly event is held 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and offers local residents a place where they can unwind, socialize and even get a quick bite to eat.

The Huntington Beach business improvement district organizes the event, which includes closing down the three city blocks of Main Street and lining it with nearly 104 vendors from across Southern California, said Mary Ann Senske, event manager for Surf City Nights.

Residents often bring their families and pets and stroll through Downtown Huntington Beach. They also have the option of shopping for fresh produce or grabbing a hot meal to go.

Senske said it is a well-oiled event that runs smoothly each week.

To keep things fair for the businesses that line Main Street, she adjusts her vendor list to balance the types of goods or services offered that night.

"We only allow 20% of food [vendors], 20% of boutiques, and of hand-crafted items and so on," she said. "We will never turn into a jewelry mart."

An even stricter policy, Senske doesn't allow merchants or restaurants that have a permanent place of business to take up a vendor spot which allows for more diversity, she said.

Because Main Street is closed off, residents tend to worry about finding parking for the night, but the city and business improvement district have partnered up to offer free shuttle rides from the civic center to Downtown, Senske said.

There are also four performance locations where live bands and solo artists play to thousands of people as the summer months come around.

But as they operate during their off-peak winter season, Main Street will still see about 5,000 to 6,000 people a night, Senske said.

"Even though it's freezing out, we still put it on," said Steve Daniel, Surf City Nights committee chair and owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

Daniel said that for more than 20 years, the city had plans to permanently close Main Street to any street traffic, but he and his committee offered a compromise of closing it down only once a week.

"For the most part, everyone likes the solution of Tuesday [nights]," said Susan Welfringer, business improvement district manager.

Then in 2007, the business improvement district had the chance to hold their first farmers' market in Downtown and they haven't looked back since.

Daniel said the business improvement district had a good reason for picking Tuesday night.

"That was everybody's slowest night. It was like a morgue walking up and down the street," Daniel said. "Now you talk to most everybody and they tell you that Tuesday is almost as good as a weekend."

Another sight you won't see at the farmers' market are food trucks. Senske believes that the vendors and restaurants in the downtown area do a good job on their own.

"We have so many restaurants on this street that have tailored their menu to so many specialty items, we can probably walk into any restaurant and ask me what food truck food they like and I can tell you what restaurant has it," Senske said.

Though Senske said Surf City Nights has been a success so far, she said there's never a time when she's not thinking of keeping the event fresh.

She said there are talks of the farmers' market expanding out to the Strand — which stretches from the Pacific Coast Highway to Walnut Avenue along Fifth Street — allowing for more space and vendors.

Senske also has different themes lined up for different nights, including Western nights in February.

Line dancing lessons will be offered, along with watermelon seed spitting contests and hot pepper eating competitions, she said.

Having owned his business for 20 years now, Daniel is happy to see the success of Surf City Nights, not only because it gives the community something to do on a Tuesday night, but to also see it potentially bring more people Downtown.

"It's been positive, especially with the local people. They love their farmers' market produce," he said.


Twitter: @acocarpio

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