The recipe for a perfect Halloween calls for fried green tomatoes, a dash of alpaca kisses, a hundred spools of colorful yarn and an ounce or two of laughter to taste. The witches of the historic Gardner Village will vouch for it. Masters of brewing ooky-spooky fun, they fly in every year to Witchfest, one of Utah’s top Halloween celebrations. While this West Jordan shopping center remains popular all year long, Witchfest sparks with an irresistible charm. From Sept. 14 through the end of October, hundreds of costumed visitors from across the Salt Lake Valley came each day of the festival to shop, dine, cackle and play.
Witchfest events ranged from magic shows to weekly parades to nighttime parties. One would only need to take a simple stroll through Gardner Village to see it decoratively transformed into a Halloween-lover’s dream. Between dancing to music and diving between shops, visitors inevitably bumped into the stars of the celebration — the witches themselves. These witches put on photo-ops, dinner theatre shows and in-character breakfasts to bring the enchantment of Witchfest to life. Gardner Village’s Lucinda the Witch has attended or performed for Witchfest each year since it first started in 2000.
According to Gardner Village’s blog, Witchfest isn’t only a celebration of Halloween, but “a celebration of womanhood.” It’s “an excuse to trade those high heels for pointed toes” and “a time to drop the laundry basket and pick up a broom (for riding, of course!)” For many, witches represent female empowerment as powerful, magic women who embrace oddity and go against the grain. This is especially true to Lucinda’s personal interpretation of being a witch. “I don’t want people to associate Lucinda with a real person’s name,” she said. “Every woman has an alter ego, and ‘Lucinda’ is definitely an alter ego.” Speaking after witching-hours, she said, “I hope I can give you Lucinda’s perspective when I’m not Lucinda,” and laughed.
When it comes to performing, Lucinda said, “It’s fun, it’s exciting. The costumes are amazing, so they say.” But her favorite part? “Getting to meet the families,” she said. Visitors of Gardner Village flock to Witchfest from all stages of life — gaggles of teenagers, parents holding their children’s hands and young couples out on dates. “It’s intended for the whole family from the youngest child to our oldest witch, who is 382,” said Lucinda. “That’s how old one of our witches says they are!” When asked what Witchfest means to her, Lucinda’s answer was immediate. “Family traditions,” she said. “Because it’s just a ton of family traditions. We have families who have been coming for years and years and years and years, and it’s definitely magical.”
Certainly, Witchfest has a little bit of everything for everyone. “The scavenger hunt is a fun, free game,” said Lucinda. “The witch displays are enchanting for their eyes to behold.” A deceptively tricky challenge to find different displays and themed decorations throughout the nooks and crannies of Gardner Village, the yearly scavenger hunt adds a dash of whimsy to exploring Gardner Village. This year, the finds included a witch in an outhouse, another stranded on a shark-surrounded raft and a third using her “eye-phone.”
Gardner Village is a shopping center after all, and Lucinda calls the variety of stores “really fun.” The shopping center features a variety of small businesses that sell all kinds of items. Willow Hill Yarn Company offers knitting supplies and lessons while Story Book Nook sells children’s books and toys of all kinds. Find knick-knacks such as antique teacups, comics and jewelry at Aunt Elsie’s Trinkets and Treasures, or stop by the Utah Sports Collective to grab new fan gear for game day. The shop I love most at Gardner Village is a candy store, Chocolate Covered Wagon, which makes gourmet truffles, fudge and caramel apples. “My favorite caramel apple is the White Rapids Caramel Apple,” said Lucinda.
Aside from sweets, Lucinda recommends two other bites from Gardner Village. “I do love Naborhood Bakery’s Margherita pizza,” she said. “And of course they’ve got delicious pastries.” Naborhood is a small shop similar in feel to Paradise Bakery and Kneaders. “Fried green tomatoes are delicious from Archibald’s Restaurant,” said Lucinda. Archibald’s is a slightly more upscale sit-down restaurant seated in the belly of the flour mill located at the head of Gardner Village.
By way of the Trax Red Line, Gardner Village is located about 40 minutes away from the University of Utah with a stop directly across the street from the shopping center. Aside from Witchfest and year-round dining and shopping, Gardner Village offers several year-long activities including painting nights, escape rooms, a duck pond and an animal rescue petting zoo with sheep, ponies and alpacas. The village will also be decorated again this coming December for the holidays.
As for Lucinda’s ideal day spent at Gardner Village? “I would dig up worms near the pond, eating caramel apples from Chocolate Covered Wagon,” said Lucinda. “And then, of course, flying my broom.”