Fourth of July in Vancouver gets down to business

Local vendors and national corporations are big part of celebration at Fort Vancouver

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

Today is one of the year's biggest for the city of Vancouver, when thousands of people pack the grounds at Fort Vancouver for Independence Day festivities. Many in that throng are ready and willing to spend money on food and concessions, and perhaps think kindly of the corporate sponsors who make the big show possible.

The Fort Vancouver National Trust hosts dozens of commercial, food, and arts and crafts vendors, who set up shop on Fifth Avenue near East Reserve Street, near the east end of the fort property. Most are small, local vendors who are eager for an opportunity to be around the event's large crowds.

"It's the biggest one-day event I do," said Kevin Latshaw of Vancouver, who sells blinking light glow sticks at the July 4 extravaganza. Latshaw, who works with his 15-year-old son on a business called Out of the Blue, also sells at Portland Winter Hawks hockey games and holds a job at a coin store. "It gives us a leg up for the year. It's the one event I look forward to every year."

Many other vendors are local entrepreneurs — think Bob's Freakin Nuts, out of Kalama — but the event also attracts the regional Dutch Bros. Coffee and Vancouver-based national pizza chain Papa Murphy's. Arts and crafts vendors pay $100 for a booth, and prices rise from there to up to $3,000 for food booths with electric power, said Cara Cantonwine, the trust's programs director.

In contrast to the small-time business activity at ground level, the heavy-hitters look skyward as sponsors of the event and its signature fireworks display. The Bank of America has been the event's lead sponsor since the fireworks show returned four years ago. That's when the trust re-launched the fireworks display after a one-year break as it struggled to establish more solid financial footing.

"It's a very large, very exciting event, and we're so proud to be a part of it, said Brandi Campbell, Bank of America's consumer banking manager for Southwest

Washington. She shared the same sentiment as Latshaw, the glow light vendor: "We look forward to it every year."

Becky Weis, sponsorship manager for the Fort Vancouver National Trust, said business and corporate sponsorships raise about $100,000 for the big Independence Day event. Companies also make major in-kind donations of services, products, and volunteer hours, she said. "Without that support, we wouldn't be able to put (the show) on," Weis said. The event costs about $400,000, when the value of in-kind donations are included, she said.

Sponsors include national companies such as Toyota and Alaska Airlines, well-known regional brands including Les Schwab Tires and Fred Meyer, and local companies including Davidson & Associates Insurance and Ross Electric Co. Weis has found that many companies want their names associated with an event that they see as representing "Americana at its finest."

"It's a valuable place for them to reach many people," Weis said. "It's a win-win. It's helping us, and it's helping them market their business."