Since 2008, October visitors to Benicia’s First Street shopping district have seen creatively dressed scarecrows on display in celebration of the Halloween season. Some have been funny, some have been scary, and some have replicated scenes from classic movies with a Halloween twist.
This year, many of those scarecrows will depict virtuous superheroes or evil villains, said Nancy Martinez, executive director of Benicia Main Street. “This is the first year we are giving it a theme,” she said.
The scarecrows started cropping up 11 seasons ago as a fun way for First Street merchants to promote their businesses and to attract shoppers to Benicia’s downtown, she said. Benicia Main Street officials decided that to make the display event interactive, the public would be allowed to vote for their favorite scarecrows.
In 2014, Benicia Main Street added mystery judges who selected first, second and third place winners as well as the public’s People’s Choice award. “After three years, the vote switched back solely to the public,” she said. “2014 also marked the year scarecrows advanced beyond First Street.” People could find the structures in businesses citywide and city departments, she added, and that all were eligible for the contest votes.
The normally businesslike Benicia City Hall had scarecrows in front of the offices of the city attorney, city manager and the finance department. The Benicia Community Center’s scarecrow was represented the Parks and Community Services Department, and the Benicia Library also joined in the fun with its own scarecrow statue.
Benicia’s scarecrows are part of Benicia’s Halloween celebrations that include the Haunted Depot that fills the old Southern Pacific building, 90 First St., with ghosts and goblins. The Haunted Depot is open from 6-9pm Oct. 19, 20, 26, 27 and Halloween, Oct. 31.
The Zombie Brew Crawl, from 1-5pm on Oct. 13, lets beer lovers in zombie makeup and clothing, sample a variety of craft beers in participating downtown shops, although costumes are not required. Tickets are available at Benicia Main Street, 90 First St., or online at beniciamainstreet.org, and are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the event.
The Halloween Costume Contest and Sidewalk Stroll are at 10am Oct. 27 at City Park on First Street and Military. The Canine & Critter Costume Contest is at noon the same day on the First Street Green at First and East B streets.
How many scarecrows sprout up in Benicia varies from year to year, Martinez said, although in the past, Main Street set a goal of 100 of the statues erected during the season. Occasionally, some businesses promised to set up a scarecrow, but the statue never made an appearance. A new rule has been adopted to reduce the chances of that happening, Martinez said. “This year, businesses won’t be put on the online voting form until their scarecrow is out and displayed with a picture sent to us, as in the past we’ve had people sign up and never put anything out—very disappointing for people who come down to vote,” she said.
People can go online to beniciamainstreet.org through Sunday, Oct. 21, to vote for their favorite scarecrows. First, second and third place prizes will be awarded, said Martinez, and that those who participate can really get into the spirit of things.
Although most of the scarecrows start off as crossed sticks in a weighted bucket, how a business decorates the base can range from classic, simple clothes and an old hat, to pirate garb to zombies and witches. “Every year, Coldwell Banker Solano Pacific does it up pretty big, usually with a background scene to go with their scarecrow,” Martinez said. “Camellia Tea Room has consistently been in the contest and always does something very creative each year.”