By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
Grand Island is kicking off the Christmas holiday season this Saturday, Dec. 2, with Santa visits, food trucks, activities, a parade and a tree lighting.
The 11th annual Light Up the Boulevard begins with a festival and visits with Santa from 3-6 p.m. in the gazebo in the Town Commons, Grand Island Boulevard and Whitehaven Road. Visitors can get their photo taken with Santa, free of charge.
Hot chocolate, activities and vendors will be located in the Town Hall parking lot. There will be a large, enclosed heated tent for the activities, to keep people warm amid the winter weather.
The Grand Island Chamber of Commerce is turning up the wattage with its Electric Light Parade at 6 p.m., culminating in the big tree lighting in the Town Commons. The parade starts on Grand Island Boulevard and travels north from Whitehaven Road to Baseline Road.
Parade participants should line up by 5 p.m., before the road closes. The lineup order can be seen at www.gichamber.org beginning Friday, Dec. 1. For more information, contact the chamber at 716-773-3651.
“This year, we have loaded up much more activities for the kids to do, including a petting zoo, face painting (by Melanie G) and Bubble Wow – a big dance party for the kids,” Chamber President Eric Fiebelkorn said.
He noted there will be a DJ, several food options and a number of food vendors, as well. The food trucks include House of Munch, Dirty Bird Chicken & Waffles, Steaksters and Outlaw Kettlecorn.
Other activities include tinsel braiding; a Hybrid Defense demonstration; coloring and letters to Santa with the Grand Island Recreation Center; and Olaf, a character from “Frozen.”
“Over the years, the genesis of Light Up the Boulevard was really to do just that. Our main street is 3 miles long, unfortunately, and there really isn’t a developed town center. Most of the year, it’s dark at night,” Fiebelkorn said. “Fran McMahon started it years ago when she had McMahon’s Restaurant. She had the idea to say – ‘Look, let’s get everyone at least to put some lights on Grand Island Boulevard, draw people to the business district during the holidays. If it looks a little nicer, maybe people will come by, stop by.’ ”
At the kickoff, the chamber decided to do a parade and a mini get-together.
“The ‘festival’ kind of grew out of it,” Fiebelkorn said.
“It’s a tough event with the weather. You don’t know what you’re going to get that day,” he added. “We have a very big tent, 30 by 90 (feet) – it’s the biggest one we ever had.”
Fiebelkorn said the tent is expensive, but it’s important to be prepared: “The only way we can do it is with sponsors. We have really good sponsorship this year.”
“A lot of the feedback we had last year was people wanted more added – and of course, they wanted it for free. Who doesn’t want more for free, right?” he joked.
“There’s no town funding, there’s no support elsewhere, other than our (chamber) membership, who sponsors the event. We kind of took a risk and built out further this year and had some good sponsorship, which is allowing for all these additional events,” Fiebelkorn said. “There’s definitely more for the kids to do, more to eat.”
With the added investment, the chamber is looking for a big turnout and lots of family fun.