ALBANY -- The 39th annual Solano Stroll from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday is a return to the event's roots in seeking to promote the business district.
This year's theme for the annual street party on Solano Avenue in Albany and Berkeley is "Eat, Shop, Play, Live."
Allen Cain, executive director and events manager for the Solano Avenue Association, said the SAA is attempting to focus attention on the district itself. In previous years, the logo for the stroll would reflect a theme that didn't have anything to do with the area. This year, the logo includes a silhouette of Solano's skyline.
"For the last 39 years, we have been spending a tremendous amount of energy producing a theme and the artwork for the district," Cain said. "We found ourselves doing all this work to put on artwork trying to brand the event when we should have been spending that time branding the district. It's all about Solano."
The re-branding strategy extends to the honorific title of grand marshall -- this year, it will be Jeff Accornero, owner of Oaks Jewelers at 1783 Solano Ave. His family has owned the business for nearly 65 years.
"It's something the association has been toying with for the last four years," Cain said. "Who are we? We're here! We're a special group of merchants. We're the highest concentration of local merchants in the area, we're the most diverse group of merchants in the area. Most of these business owners live in the immediate area."
The stroll originated as a small event to promote the commercial area, but the focus changed as the event grew to one of the largest festivals in the Bay Area,
"For years we've gone without branding the district, without packaging up the district in a marketable campaign," Cain said.
The Solano Stroll is the biggest event of the year for the SAA. Seventy-five entertainers, including about 50 musical acts, will perform. Headliners include belly dancing legend Jamila Salimpour, boy band Cheating Daylight and former American Idol contestant April Kae.
There will also be a statewide police motorcycle agility competition held at the Thousand Oaks schoolyard. Officers from all over the state will participate in the training exercise and strollers are invited to watch.
Two hundred nonprofit organizations will have tables. They will include the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp (the camp has been devastated by the Rim Fire), a group of local Rotary Clubs and several schools. Cain said the presence of schools gives parents a chance to start the process of enrolling their children early.
Plus, of course, there will be plenty of food.
Businesses on Solano, much like businesses all over, were hit hard by the economic downturn. However, Cain said the district has rebounded and is now doing well.
"We are rocking and rolling," he said. "We are at our all-time low vacancy rate while we were at our all-time high vacancy rate in 2008. What you're going to see on Solano is the trend of Internet-proof businesses. Workout studios -- you can't work out online -- vintage clothing. In the last two years, we've had five new fitness studios and a pharmacy open."
The additions are part of the avenue's adaptation to changing times.
"It's great. It adds to the flavor of the district," Cain said. "Solano Avenue was known in the '80s and '90s for being a restaurant district. We still have a great lineup of restaurants and at the same time, we've grown to be a health district."
Cain said the bottom line is that the Stroll, despite losing corporate sponsors, always seems to do well.
"(It's) an event that's backed by the community and it seems to go well regardless of the condition of the economy," he said.