Inaugural Julian StarFest benefits community and local businesses
by THOR KAMBAN BIBERMAN, The Daily Transcript Monday, August 4, 2008
For those who love it, astronomy is a passion. It is also a business.
For the 20 vendors of telescopes, binoculars, digital cameras, filters etc., the inaugural Julian StarFest, held this past weekend at the Menghini Winery, was a chance to show the public what their hardware can do.
For Julian's merchants, restaurateurs and bed and breakfast owners, the event means full stores, full restaurants and full beds.
Michael Menghini, who owns the winery, is the president of the Julian Chamber of Commerce.
"The winery is the only place in Julian big enough to handle something like this," Menghini said.
For the business owners it is a chance to capitalize on an event at a time that isn't typically economically strong. This is generally a much more quiet period well before the Julian Apple Days Festival, and before the hoards who come to Julian in the winter for the novelty of snow in these parts.
"This is typically a slow time," said Menghini. "These events bring business to Julian."
The proceeds from the event will be used to build an observatory at Julian's junior high school.
Scott Baker, general manager of the Julian StarFest, recalled that the last time he drove to what was supposed to be a big astronomical event, "it was in Big Bear and it was snowing. It was then we decided that we were going to have this event, and we were going to have it in August."
While it is too early to quantify just how much the new annual event meant to the local economy, the Julian Merchants Association said the rooms were not only full, that some were actually booked as far back as January.
For a few of the founders of the StarFest, which drew more than 1,000 visitors on Saturday alone and was billed as the largest of its kind in Southern California this year, the event was a natural extension of their own passion for astronomy.
Baker has an observatory at his Mountain High Bed and Breakfast Inn. He isn't alone. Michael Leigh's Observer's Inn has its own observatory to delight its guests.
Chuck Kimball's Artists' Loft at Strawberry Hill is another place where scopes have been set up to taken out to take advantage of Julian's dark skies.
While quite a few visitors stayed in town, more camped at the winery, which was handed over by the Menghini family at no charge for the event.
One portion of the property that is divided between grapevines and apple trees was dedicated for RV use and regular camping. A central area was organized into a line of booths that featured everything from event T-shirts to a $7,000 Televue 120 millimeter apochromatic refracting computerized telescope.
Celestron and Meade, the best known brands, also had booths at the event.
Even the same brand of telescope has a huge range of prices. Vixen is a case in point. One reflector that was raffled off was worth less than $500, but the San Clemente firm also has an apochromatic refractor line valued in excess of $5,000.
The event, which also featured Coronado solar telescopes that can view solar prominences and sunspots, included merchants whose reputations are international in scope.
One of the more recognized local merchants was Oceanside Photo and Telescope. Another company, Scope City, didn't have a booth but was one of a couple dozen sponsors of the event.
A $185 UHC nebula filter obtained from the Oceanside Photo booth yielded a splendid view of the Swan Nebula seeming to swim in space.
A 16-inch Lightbridge was showcased that may have been tempting, but while the truss-tube telescope is easy to assemble, the large mirror is too heavy for most people to lift.
Sacramento, Calif.-based Far Point was created by a small group of entrepreneurs who didn't want to supply the big hardware, but instead created small items such as weights and collimation instruments enabling telescopes large and small to function at maximum performance. The StarFest also offered tours of the 200-inch Hale telescope at Palomar and scientific lectures on such topics as the Phoenix Mars Mission, which recently confirmed the presence of water ice on the red planet's north polar cap.
Saturday evening, a sizable line stretched behind the Lightbridge and a couple of the other telescopes. Parents lifted their children to count the moons of Jupiter, or see the explosion of stars in M-13 in Hercules.