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West Jordan Journal

Toil and trouble won’t stop WitchFest

Oct 28, 2020 04:58PM ● By Alison Brimley

The Cackling Cantina serves fast-serve a la carte meals throughout WitchFest at Gardner Village. Restaurants will operate with reduced capacity at WitchFest this year. (Photo courtesy of Marcia Johns.)

By Alison Brimley | [email protected]

Gardner Village’s annual WitchFest celebrated its 20th anniversary this year in true 2020 style: with masks required, attendance limited and signs posted reminding visitors to keep “a broomstick’s length apart.” 

Marketing Director Marcia Johns has been with Gardner Village almost 25 years and sat in the original meeting in 2000 when the event, then called “Witches’ Night Out,” was born. “It was my task to pull it off,” Johns said. Throughout the years, Johns and others have continued to meet around that same table, adding new elements to the event, which has become a favorite Halloween tradition for many in the West Jordan area. 

For the 20th anniversary, Johns said many special elements were planned but ultimately couldn’t be pulled off in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. “We can’t do our traditional parade,” she said. “We’re encouraging no dancing around the stage. We don’t have our entertainment stages going.” The “Six Hags” play area will not take place this year because it’s so “high-touch.” The prize drawings will operate using a touchless system. Shopping and the Cackling Cantina restaurant will be open, though with allowances made for social distancing.

“We weighed modifications that we hope will help people relax and enjoy themselves but at the same time stay safe,” Johns said.  

Gardner Village has been careful to operate in accordance with current health guidelines. 

“As far as outside venues, you can have up to 6,000 people at an outside event,” Johns said. This isn’t a problem for WitchFest, which never draws that many people at one time. 

What posed a bigger challenge were the Witchapalooza Dinner Theater, Breakfast with a Witch and Cackling Cantina, which are held inside. Placement of tables inside the restaurants has been adjusted as staff determines how to make the events as safe as possible. “Used to be able to sell 28 tables for each,” Johns said. Now, because the tables are spaced 6 feet apart, they’re only able to sell 13 tables, making for a reduction of more than 50%. 

“All ticketed events have sold out,” Johns said. But because each restaurant only serves at 50% capacity, “revenue really goes down.”

As for the non-ticketed events, it’s impossible to say at this point how overall attendance is impacted by COVID-19, because admissions are not counted. “As far as daily attendance, we’ve seen an uptick in traffic,” Johns said. But they won’t get hard numbers until after the event concludes. Because their lot isn’t striped and chaos reigns when visitors park their own cars, a professional parking crew is commissioned to park cars in the Gardner Village lot. When the parking company makes its reports, they’ll be able to show how attendance compares to previous years.  

To commemorate WitchFest’s 20th anniversary, a social media campaign invited visitors what they love about the event. Johns has sorted through many emails from attendees and hundreds of photos taken by families over the last 20 years. One woman sent a series of photos she’d taken of her children every year at the same location during WitchFest. WitchFest has also carved out a space for itself as a popular outing for women celebrating a girls’ night out. 

“Customers are telling me they love the traditions they create with their family,” Johns said. “They love a whimsical, friendly Halloween experience rather than a gory Halloween experience.” 

For six weeks in the spring, Gardner Village, like many businesses, was shut down altogether, affecting the livelihoods of hundreds. Because of the frequently changing case numbers and health guidelines, event officials held off on selling tickets to this fall’s ticketed events until Sept. 1. Johns has been pleased with the sales, despite the unusual conditions.

“With the current state of the world, I’m just happy we are able to do anything this year,” Johns said. “It’s a way for people to escape, to not have to think about watching the news or being on social media.” 

Johns also expressed appreciation for all who continue to support Gardner Village, which has been in business for 40 years and employs more than 200 people in the West Jordan area. “A local business is heartbeat of America,” she said.