23rd Street Cinco de Mayo festival uplifts Richmond

23rd Street Cinco de Mayo festival uplifts Richmond
Gonzalo Ochoa, owner of G&O Tires and new president of the 23rd Street Merchants Association (left) alongside Rigo Mendoza, owner of Rigo's Auto Sales and co-founder of the merchants association.

With the aim of enhancing economic activity and safety on 23rd Street in Richmond, a group of merchants decided to throw a big party about 13 years ago.

Today, that party, a collaboration among local businesses including annual sponsor Chevron Richmond, is among the best attended and most respected Cinco de Mayo festivals in the Bay Area. And since local merchants began inviting thousands of people to their street one day each year, the important commercial corridor’s reputation has enhanced and its merchants are more unified, according to Gonzalo Ochoa, owner of G&O Tires and new president of the 23rd Street Merchants Association.

This Sunday, May 5, the free-admission festival is expecting its largest gathering. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on 23rd between Clinton and Rheem avenues.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations returning to Richmond, San Pablo this weekend
A photo of the crowd attending the 23rd Street Merchants Association’s Cinco de Mayo celebration last year.

Typically, over 100,000 people from throughout the Bay Area visit the festival each year to watch live entertainment on three stages while perusing an endless list of authentic, traditional food options.

One would expect that size of crowd to cause public safety problems. But every year, the Richmond Police Department has characterized the festival as peaceful.

Rigo Mendoza, owner of rigo’s Auto Sales who co-founded both the festival and the 23rd Street Merchants Association along with former City Councilmember John Marquez, attributes the peace to the event’s focus on a family-friendly, alcohol-free atmosphere. In the first few years, it wasn’t easy to convince people to visit Richmond for a festival, Mendoza said. Today, a majority of the festival-goers are from out of town. The festival has been a boon for both Richmond’s reputation and the businesses that operate on 23rd Street, Mendoza says.

This year, there will be 26 food vendors, not to mention the existing 23rd Street restaurants that will be selling their best grub. You’ll be able to watch Mexican and Native American dances, Lucha Libre wrestling, and kids will be able to ride ponies, jump around in bouncy houses, get their faces painted, and participate in games and crafts. Azteca America and 93.3 La Raza will again participate in this year’s festival.

Ochoa said the festival takes a full year to plan, with much of the work occurring five months before the date. The merchants don’t make a profit on the festival, and it’s a lot of work, Ochoa said. But he said it’s worth having an annual event that provides exposure for 23rd Street businesses and ultimately helps raise up Richmond’s reputation as a compelling and safe community.

“Bring your family and your kids,” Ochoa said. “Once you see all the vendors, the dancing, the food, you’ll see what makes it special.”