The Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival wrapped up its annual three-day run downtown on Sunday, bringing an end to the city’s yearly celebration of its favorite chile pepper and marking the quarter-century anniversary of flavorful food festivities in the Home of Heroes.

The 25th annual event on Union Avenue drew tens-of-thousands of chile lovers from across the state and country from Friday through Saturday, and Rod Slyhoff, president and CEO of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, said the 2019 affair featured some the most highly attended days in the festival’s history.

“We had one of the best Fridays in all the years we’ve been doing the festival,” Slyhoff said.

“And (Sunday) was the biggest day we’ve ever had. … Last year we estimated about 140,000 (attendees) and I’m going to go out on a limb and say we were a little over 150,000 this year. It was a great year.”

One significant difference in this year’s chile festival was the relocation of the Rusler Produce Frijoles Farmers Market, where local chile farmers roast and sell in bulk the meaty mirasol peppers for which Pueblo is known.

Moving the farmers from their longtime spots in front of the Vail Hotel to a larger area in the parking lot of the Senior Resource Development Agency was a mandatory move, which Slyhoff said was done to comply with national fire laws regarding the use of propane tanks near open flames.

But the transition was not without some small hiccups – there were some drainage issues concerning the water chile farmers use to roast their peppers, and some patrons expressed displeasure at the new location for the farmers market.

“We knew we were going to have some drainage issues from the water they use to roast the peppers and we limited that as much as we could,” Slyhoff said. “But we learned a lot from it and that’s one of the things we’ll be working on with the city of Pueblo to make it better next year.”

“We also had some people that said, ‘Gee, we used to smell the chiles roasting on Union Avenue and we hardly could smell them this year.’ So there was little things like that. And I understand that, but what farmers I talked to said they did very well this year. It didn’t affect their sales too much.”

“All in all, I think it went really well with all the farmers there together.”

When Slyhoff was first charged with starting the chile festival 25 years ago to introduce the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce’s new branding of, “Experience the Flavor of Pueblo,” he said he never could have imagined the massive celebration it has since become.

“I had no intentions of going 25 years,” he said. “It was kind of part of the game plan to get the word out about Pueblo and we thought maybe we would do it for 2-3 years. But here we are 25 years later and the growth has been really good over the years,” he said.

But that growth has posed some problems of its own, as the large crowds who visit year after year have created a situation in which the festival is almost bursting at the seams with attendees.

“That’s an issue we’ve been grappling with for the last 2-3 years,” Slyhoff said.

“This was designed all along to be a street festival, and short of maybe having to limit the number of vendor spaces so that we have more room inside, I’m not sure we can do much more.”

Slyhoff said some people have suggested maybe moving the festival to a larger venue, such as the Colorado State Fairgrounds, but he said as long as he coordinates the festival, he will do his best to keep it downtown where he feels it belongs.

“We really think part of the magic of the festival is not just the Pueblo Chiles, but also the fact that it’s in our Historic Union Avenue District,” Slyhoff said.

“So my intention is to never move it from that location. We’re attempting to manage it the best we can to keep it what it is: a street festival that celebrates the harvest in downtown Pueblo in the historic district.”

As for his take on this year’s festival as a whole?

‘It was a great festival and we shared with a lot of people why Pueblo is a great place,” Slyhoff said.

“And not only to live and raise a family and work, but we also have better tasting peppers than New Mexico,” he said with a laugh.

Twitter: @ZachHillstrom