Hoping to beat the afternoon heat Tuesday, a group of high-school wrestlers armed with small paint brushes and a ladder spent the morning putting final touches on a vendor booth for the Santa Barbara Jaycees in De la Guerra Plaza.
The San Marcos High School student athletes seemed to sense the tradition of working in the same space the local nonprofit has occupied during Old Spanish Days Fiesta since 1983, on the north side of the downtown plaza.
Working ahead of a kickoff Wednesday, the teenagers offered up a day of summer to continue the custom and raise money to replace a wrestling mat 40 years past its prime.
The Fiesta mercados are the biggest fundraisers of the year for Santa Barbara Jaycees and other nonprofits and businesses that set up food and beverage booths in De la Guerra Plaza downtown and in MacKenzie Park near Las Positas Road.
Visitors can begin enjoying the fare at 11 a.m. Wednesday, and El Mercado de la Guerra and El Mercado Del Norte at MacKenzie Park will remain open daily through Saturday.
Fiesta will feature extra events to celebrate its 90th anniversary, and the Santa Barbara Jaycees will offer something special, too.
Slushies have been added to an already simple yet successful menu of taquitos, chips and homemade guacamole that’s converted avocado-haters over the years, said Tony Becerra, Jaycees chairman.
“It’s all made here in the booth,” Becerra said. “People have known us for years and years.”
Ice cold lemonade, tacos, churros, burgers and more carnival-type food can also be found, provided by organizations such as Special Olympics Southern California, La Casa de la Raza and Santa Barbara Rugby Association.
In order to buy that new wrestling mat — costing $8,000 to $12,000 — the Jaycees need to sell a lot of guacamole, which shouldn’t be a problem considering the booth typically uses 60 to 80 cases of avocados, Becerra said.
Understanding the sanctity of mercados customs, Becerra said he hopes one tradition will fall this year.
He has a long-standing offer to anyone who requests the booth’s guacamole recipe, guaranteeing the ingredients if a person volunteers to work one shift during Fiesta.
So far, no one has taken him up on the deal.