by Gene Marrano
One of the traditional kickoffs to the holiday season, the annual Grandin Village Holiday Children’s Parade drew thousands of spectators – and participants – on a sunny and mild Saturday last weekend. The Patrick Henry High School marching band and the Air Force Junior ROTC provided some of the pomp and circumstance during the parade, which featured everything from neighbors wheeling their kids down the street in little red wagons to members of Roanoke City Council (Mayor David Bowers, Anita Price and Sherman Lea were on hand) and Santa Claus, who always arrives at the end of the parade on a hook and ladder truck courtesy of the Roanoke City Fire/EMS.
The annual Holiday event, sponsored by the Grandin Village Business Association, also draws visitors that may not otherwise venture out to the Grandin Village, helping to fill shops and restaurants. It’s also a kickoff to the holiday shopping season, which gets into full gear this weekend with “Black Friday.”
Wal-Mart will actually kick off Black Friday on Thursday night, giving Thanksgiving diners an excuse to go walk off their holiday meals. Economic forecasters have been sending out mixed signals about the strength of retail shopping sales this season, worrying many local stores that base their livelihood on strong holiday season activity.
Downtown Roanoke Inc., the organization that promotes businesses downtown and manages the Farmer’s Market, is making a heavy push for people to shop at small retailers in the area. DRI is even telling men, via radio spots, that they can celebrate the purchases made for the “special ladies” in their lives at one of the restaurants downtown that carry football games on big screen TV’s.
Downtown Roanoke Inc.’s Dickens of a Christmas kicks off on December 2 and runs for three consecutive Friday nights. Dec. 2 features the City of Roanoke Christmas tree lighting; there’s a Christmas parade on Dec. 9 and a pet costume contest on the 16th. Strolling carolers in Victorian era costumes, horse drawn carriage rides and all types of goodies offered for sale are all a part of Dickens of a Christmas, which is sponsored by SunTrust.
The Farmer’s Market and many downtown businesses stay open for Dickens and people often pick up a wreath or other Christmas-related items while taking in the festivities. The Dec. 2 debut for Dickens of a Christmas also coincides with Art By Night this year (now on Friday nights) and Betty Branch’s invitation-only sneak peek inside her sculpture studio on Warehouse Row, which she only opens to the public once a year.
The Grandin Holiday Children’s Parade is unique in that no pre-registration is required – you just need to show up by 10:30 Saturday morning in order to join the fun. Nonetheless many groups plan well ahead to be there, and Grandin area businesses like Pop’s Ice Cream, Local Roots, the Natural Foods Co-op and even 7-11 were represented.
Make no mistake about it, however – the arrival of Santa Claus on the fire truck at the end is enough to remind people that the parade is all about ringing in the start of the Christmas holiday season.
See downtownroanoke.org for more about Dickens of a Christmas.