Summer Festivals are Small Business Opportunities: Ballard SeafoodFest

July 5, 2016 • 7 min read
Cori Ready

Cori Ready


Seattle’s Seafood Fest, happening this weekend, July 9 – 10, is a hub of small businesses, customers, and local innovation. Ballard’s Chamber of Commerce has been producing the wildly popular (and free) shindig for over 40 years. The Ballard SeafoodFest is a high point of Seafair’s 10-week summer festival extravaganza. For small businesses in Wallingford and Ballard, the festival provides opportunities, challenges, and a whole lot of traffic of all kinds.

community event
Image courtesy of Seafair.com

Begun in 1974 as a “community celebration of Ballard’s historic connection to the fishing industry and the neighborhood’s Nordic roots,” this Seattle tradition now attracts over 65,000 people who come to enjoy food, friends, and a favorite neighborhood. Ballard SeafoodFest vendor Unusual Cards is excited to be making its Fest debut near its birthplace, an art studio on Ballard Avenue. Artist-owner Francesca Berrini said, “It’s just amazing to see all the new business that have opened up in the neighborhood since then! It’s a great way to participate in the neighborhood where I got my first business idea so long ago!”

Make the Most of Community Events

Seafood revelers will spend dollars on parking, food, drink, souvenirs, and, of course, more food, boosting the local economy. Local businesses should be sure to take advantage of summer events like the Fest. There’s evidence that businesses consistently generate higher revenue during events, with owners who participate in a regular “First Friday” event reporting increases of as much as 100 to 250 percent (!). Want a piece of the action? Hop aboard and offer some fest-related activities, discounts, or just embrace the added urban hubbub as momentum for your offerings.

Like most such events, Ballard SeafoodFest is meant to reinforce commercial and mixed-use activity, enhancing the quality of the pedestrian environment. What that means for you, small business owner, is that there are many ways to be marketing and increasing revenue. Here are some approaches to making the most of community events.

Tips for Foot Traffic

Take advantage of the heightened foot traffic in the area. Any time there’s an uptick in browsers and passers-by is a great time to provide samples. You might even consider selling a product you don’t normally stock that festival go-ers always need, like bottles of water. More foot traffic also means it’s is a great time to post (and repost) your advertisements, posters, and flyers. Co-sponsorship, through banners at activity areas or entrances, signs at stages, in programs, or on t-shirts, is another option. The City of Seattle recently changed postering rules, so check out the updated Do’s and Dont’s!

Community Partnerships

Community events can provide the motivation to partner with a local nonprofit or support a good cause. For example, Ballard SeafoodFest is sharing the weekend with Skate Festi-Bowl 2016, happening on Saturday. The competition is the largest all-ages one in the regional, presented by Skate Like a Girl. The organization, which promotes female empowerment, is the sort of partner that could be great for your brand. In addition to the benefits of co-marketing, you’ll have a captive audience of skaters and spectators attending events all day. When considering a community-oriented partner like this, make sure their mission and/or target audience matches (but doesn’t compete with) yours.

Sponsorship Opportunities, Event Partnerships, and More

Volunteering is one method of getting your name and brand out there. (Plus, every shift Seafood Fest “Deck Hands” work comes with a free salmon dinner!) Traditional sponsorship opportunities offered by the Ballard SeafoodFest begin at $100 and exceed $5,000. Similar volunteer and sponsorship opportunities are available at many, if not most, summer festivals.

Lutefisk drying, Norway. Image courtesy of Soldatnytt, Wikimedia

Ballard SeafoodFest is a natural for food and beverage businesses. Seafood-specific events include the surprisingly entertaining and international competition to eat up to 2 lbs of lutefisk and the Trident Seafoods Alder-Smoked Salmon flown direct from Alaska. Other food vendors range from Afghan Delicious to Zieglers Bratwurst Haus. The festival’s beer garden, Ballard BeerFest, will feature over 25 beers to choose from, in addition to wine and spirits.

But you don’t always need to focus on the main attraction to make the most of an event. The Fest is host to myriad other events, many of them kid-focused, like the Seattle Police Department (SPD) Precinct Picnic. The Picnic boasts unique SPD attractions like the mobile precinct, Harbor Patrol, police horses, SWAT team, and a bomb robot. There’s also Boat Building and a free Salmon Artwork Project. The Big Purple Slide, a Ballard SeafoodFest tradition, will be serving kids young and old.

Ballard SeafoodFest MainStage
Image courtesy of Salty Dog Boating News

Seattle is justly famous for its music scene and even neighborhood festivals don’t disappoint. Local businesses the Veris Law Group and Vulcan Inc. are sponsoring the MainStage lineup, which includes some longtime 206 favorites, including veterans Mudhoney, Helio Sequence, and Polecat.

Of course, the arts don’t stop with music. There will be plenty of artists selling their wares, like vendor Michelle Aitken Ceramics. Ms. Aitken is looking forward to the Fest, calling the event “super friendly, with a great neighborhood vibe.” She says the Ballard SeafoodFest has “right mix of tasty food stands, artist stalls, and music for all.” If a booth makes sense for your business, that may be the best way to go.

Perhaps an even older Seafair tradition would be more appropriate for your business. The 67th Annual Wallingford Family Parade, presented this Saturday by the Wallingford Chamber of Commerce and the Boys & Girls Club, is the longest running Seafair event of all. Local businesses, drill teams, marching bands, and family-oriented organizations celebrate and compete for awards. The parade will make its way through Wallingford, beginning at the corner of Interlake & N 45th, running east along N 45th St., and ending at Bagley Avenue N.

Ballard SeafoodFest Chamber
Image courtesy of Ballard Chamber of Commerce

If the complications of community festivals like this keep you up worrying your regular customers won’t have easy access to your business or that events will draw all the foot traffic away from your location, don’t despair. You can minimize the downsides. Start by encouraging your employees to carpool, take transit, or travel by foot power to the event. Festival goers and business owners alike can bike to to work or play—bikes are cheaper, greener, and, during a crowded festival, may be much faster than driving. Check out the Seattle Bike Map on the Seattle Bike Blog for fun routes to take to Seafood Fest over the weekend. The city even offers a mobile version!

If you’re on a street that’s not in the path of the main event, be sure to let potential customers know where you are. In addition to flyers and posters, you may want to set up an “A board” sign to let customers know you’re right around the corner. Another option is to have a mobile advertisement—a bike with your business name and samples, for example.

From promos to workarounds, there is more to the Ballard SeafoodFest than just the fish. Whether you want to get involved as a vendor, sponsor, or volunteer, community festivals like it are great places to make contacts, dollars, and increase eyeball share for your brand, all while building goodwill. It’s safe to say that festivals build community, and community is good for small business! Many cities like Seattle are rapidly changing, so it’s nice to see that some things never go out of style—like celebrating in the street and supporting independent businesses.


Cori Ready is a creative event designer and founding board member of the Seattle Design Foundation. She’ll be one of the expert panelists at a Townsquared Seattle workshop How to Design an Event for Your Business, Monday, July 11. Check out our Events page for more information and tickets!


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