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Crab festival in the making

Robert Grosz of Brookings hopes to make his crab festival rival the success of the Slam’n Salmon Derby and the Southern Oregon Kite Festival.

He pitched his idea to the city’s Tourism Promotion and Advisory Committee (TPAC) Thursday. 

He sought $4,000 in Transient Lodging Tax monies to start what he hopes will be an annual event to bring tourism dollars into town during the winter months.

The committee approved the idea and will recommend the Bookings City Council do the same.

The first Southern Oregon Crab Festival is slated for Jan. 25.

“This is done all up and down the coast,” Grosz said. “But not within 200 miles of here. We could start with the basics and see it grow, and maybe we’ll have a couple thousand people show up in two years.”

Grosz moved here in 2012 from San Diego, where he coordinated similar, larger events. He plans to hold this one-day festival Jan. 26 at the Port of Brookings-Harbor. And for the inaugural festival, he hopes to attract 250 people.

“The first year whatever you do, you have to do well,” he said.

He proposes a day of crab-themed events: crab races, high-quality vendors selling crab- or nautical-oriented theme items, tours of crab boats and depictions of life in the industry, and a place where people can purchase the crustaceans and even ship them home.

“I want people to spend the afternoon having a crab experience,” he said. “The day would be wide open, free, a come-on-down-and-have-fun kind of thing.”

“I’m envisioning it ... the consumer is going to have different choices,” said TPAC member Bob Pieper, who knows Grosz through business associations. “You can just go down there and have a crab dinner; or you can go crab off the dock, and there’s a place that’ll cook it for you; or if you live out of town, you can buy a ton of crab and ship it home.”

The night would feature a crab dinner for a maximum of 250 people, a beer garden and music.

“This is going to get big,” Pieper said. “This is a home run. This is over the fence; this is a grand slam.”

Grosz has already secured a tent under which up to 800 people can be comfortably seated; Grosz noted that he is a large man, and having elbow room at the dining table should be a priority — especially when eating shellfish.

If he sells 250 dinner tickets, about half of the tent area could be used for vendors. He’s obtained permission from the port, and is working to secure other needed permits, including those for the sale of crab and beer.

The tent is a priority because of the unpredictable weather in late January; if winds exceed 30 miles an hour, the event will be postponed by two weeks or moved to a yet-to-be-determined alternate location.

“The crab people say it’s a good time for it,” Grosz said, adding that his research has shown it’s only rained on that day once in the past five years. “What if we could say, ‘It’s 35 degrees in Medford; come on out to the coast where it’s 60!’? It seems there’s always a period in January where it’s 60 or 65. That’s when we call Medford and say, ‘The crabs are on.’”

TPAC member Barb Ciaramella reminded the group that Cape Ferrelo holds its fish fry in winter and always gets a crowd.

“We decided to take this risk to get winter events,” TPAC member Tim Patterson reminded the group. “This is (the kind of event) we asked for.”

Grosz said the event would break even if he could attract 100 to 110 people at $10 a plate. The tent rental alone costs $1,500, and another $2,500 is what he projects he’d need for advertising. Of that, he’d spend 25 percent locally, with posters for windows, directional signs and advertising. The remainder would be spent to advertise the event in the valley, on social media and the Internet.

“Facebook would get the crowd of 30- to 40-year-olds, the newspapers would get the 40-, 50-, 60-year-olds,” he said. “And then just take that outside the area.”

He is also entertaining the idea of sponsorships for T-shirts, bundling the dinner with hotel deals and providing a memento for participants to take home.

“I was thinking crab hammers,” he said. “I can just see people banging their hammers all over, making all this noise. I think it would be a lot of fun.”

TPAC members agreed that, while some events take years to become profitable, this one could be real popular, real quick.

“Personally, I’m not hoping to walk away with anything,” Grosz said. “If I can show we can do a successful off-season event, it could encourage others to do it and we wouldn’t be so dead in the winter.”

Grosz anticipates a two-day event next year. 

“This year, he’s playing it 100 percent safe,” Pieper said. “But this will get as big as the kite festival and Slam’n Salmon. This is awesome.”

More information will become available in upcoming weeks at www.southernoregoncrabfest.com. 

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