By Madeline Shannon
Standing in the shade of an awning and donning a humongous neon green hat, Andrea Viernes sold cold drinks to customers at Big Hat Days who were trying to cool down from the hot, sunny weather on the first day of Big Hat Days in Clovis.
“I’m enjoying everything — the food, meeting people,” Viernes said. “We need to enjoy ourselves, have fun and get together.”
The two days of Big Hat Days 2023 was expected to bring out 175,000 people, and about 400 vendors came out to set up booths to sell everything from wind chimes to tie-dye clothes to succulent terrariums to rubber band guns. Other popular attractions of Big Hat Days, like the Michelob Ultra Beer Garden, Kids Zone and carnival rides all drew out locals this year, especially families looking to entertain the kids for the afternoon.
“People are ready to get out ,” said Diana Hunnicutt, membership director for the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, which organizes Big Hat Days every year. “We’re going to see a packed two days. We’re a little larger this year — 400 vendors — and a lot of new vendors are here. We have a lot of different things.”
This year was Big Hat Days’ 85th year, and originally started as a celebration of farmers, cowboys and loggers in Clovis, according to a Clovis Chamber of Commerce special newsletter. The big hats worn by these workers were meant to protect the wearer from dust and sun while they worked, and townsfolk wore their big hats during Big Hat Days as a tribute to these men and women.
Today, Big Hat Days is the Central Valley’s biggest free street festival, covering 15 blocks in Old Town Clovis. Shopping booths, food trucks, and kids carnival rides, along with the beer garden, remain staples of one of the biggest events of the year in Clovis.
The local color isn’t limited to boots on the ground or hats on the heads. On Saturday afternoon, while a multi-colored miniature train transported event goers around Old Town, a Chuckchansi Gold Resort & Casino flag trailed a crop duster plane circling the air above Old Town Clovis. A rock band played to a packed beer garden while a long line trailed out of the security-heavy beer garden gate. And in a swirl of thousands of people, some pushing strollers, some hoisting kids onto their shoulders, one of the hat booth vendors talked up some of the hats they design and sell — especially the big hats.
“We have six-inch brims, which end up being 18 inches from edge to edge,” said Scott Mosher, one of the vendors at the Sensations by Sybil booth, a hatmaker and retailer that travels around the country selling hats at art and wine festivals and other local events. “That’s the biggest hat we have.”
Since the event is free and there’s no tickets sold or given out to folks who attend the event, there’s no official headcount over the course of the weekend. However, Clovis Chamber of Commerce staff said that based on their estimations, they expect they had a record turnout this year.
“This year was a huge success,” said Jenna Welch, communications director for the Chamber of Commerce. “After talking with our vendors and getting feedback from them, we can say this is one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever seen. Everyone was tired of being cooped up because of the rain and were ready to get out.”