For more than 60 years, Asheville’s Holiday parade has ushered in the holidays, and there have been few substantial changes along the way. This year, though, is different.
The Asheville Downtown Association has taken over the role formerly held by the Asheville Merchants Corporation and is working with the city to organize the parade. The association, experienced with organizing other popular events such as Downtown After 5, took the opportunity to make a number of changes.
Parade Director Sandie Rhodes says the goal is to “bring the parade back to supporting downtown.” The parade, much like Bele Chere, was born out of a desire to boost downtown merchants, but has grown to a point where it’s hurt downtown more than it’s helped, Rhodes says.
In addition to being business-friendly, Rhodes says there’s an emphasis on making the pageant “a little more family-friendly.” “Every entry should be entertaining,” she says, and there’s a dress code this year. For example: “no bare midriffs” on performers in the parade.
And that’s not all. Here’s a run-down of the other key changes to this year’s parade, which is set for Saturday, Nov. 22:
• The pace: The parade will start at 11 a.m., three hours earlier than in past years. And despite the fact that there are more than 100 entries, the event will have a quicker pace. “We got complaints about big gaps in the parade and the parade taking too long,” Rhodes says. “We have 60 parade marshals. We are really going to kick everybody into high gear.”
• The route: This year’s route is the same, but the progression will be reversed. That means the marching bands, floats and walkers will line up on Charlotte Street and start up Biltmore Avenue. In past years, the parade lined up on the Smoky Park Bridge and ramp leading to Patton Avenue, but that posed traffic dangers, according to Rhodes.
• The performance areas: The main performance area will be on Pack Square. That’s where WLOS-TV Channel 13 will have its cameras set up to record the action. The secondary performance area will be at Pritchard Park, which is where the parade judges will be located.
• The crowd: Rhodes says the parade organizers are asking everyone who comes to the event to bring an item to donate, such as a canned good. The theme this year is “The Art & Heart of Giving,” and local charities will be on hand to pick up items from the crowd, says Rhodes, who expects anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people to descend upon downtown. “Just think: If everybody brought one item, we could really make a difference,” Rhodes says.
• New vendors: If you’re looking for vendors selling plastic toys as in years past, you won’t find them. There will be four tents set up by the Downtown Association selling popcorn balls and other “cool candy,” as well as balloons, caps and totes all sporting the parade logo. In addition, downtown restaurants have been encouraged to create a parade-day menu to encourage people to stay downtown and nosh after the festivities.
• The marshal: It’s not a parade if there isn’t a local celebrity on hand. The parade’s grand marshal will be actress Andie MacDowell.
Finally, there’s one aspect that hasn’t changed: Santa Claus is still the star. This year, Santa will lead caroling in Pritchard Park after the parade. He’ll also have a special mailbox for kids ready to drop off their special letter to the jolly elf.