Christmas Opening kicked off the holiday season in our lovely little town of Buena Vista on Saturday, December 2nd, 2017. The air was crisp and clean and promised to warm as the sun peeked over Sleeping Indian. As the final preparations were made it was time to enjoy the fruits of the collaborative effort of over 70 different businesses, groups, and non-profits. This day truly reflected what can be accomplished when groups band together under the spirit of community and celebration.
It was a tumultuous month and a half leading up to day. With our Director out of the office on medical leave and the previous volunteer organizer of the day resigned, the Chamber & Visitor Center’s remaining one and a half staff (neither of which had worked on this event before) jumped in with both feet. We were lucky to have the support of a great group of volunteer chairs on our organizing committee including David Billesbach (The Suite at Five Peaks), Joy Duprey (Pinon Real Estate Group of BV), Erin Godonis (Mountain River Inn), Valerie Harlan (Pinon Court Cabins), Brett Mitchell (Coldwell Banker/Collegiate Peaks Realty), Earl Richmond (South Main Development), Tom Tomson (Buena Vista Heritage Museum), and Carole Vowell (Central Colorado Title & Escrow). This event truly would not have been possible without the efforts of these amazing people. They took a desire to be included and turned it into fantastic events that people could enjoy. Through their efforts the day and town was filled with the wonderful traditions that have been part of this day plus exciting new additions that helped enhance the excitement and wonder of the holiday season.
The day kicked off at Christmas Opening Headquarters (The BV Community Center) with visitors and residents enjoying tree and table displays from local businesses, and the holiday sounds of Chime Time, BVHS jazz band and other musical groups. Sales were abundant with the purchasing of Christmas Tree permits, Chocolate Walk Cards, and discounted punch passes for Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. The latter quickly grew into a serpentine line that wound its way through the Community Center and out the door. However, I suspect the lovely music, holiday atmosphere, and promise of killer deals kept spirits high as folks waited patiently.
From Christmas HQ visitors could make their way to participating Chocolate Walk businesses to explore holiday offerings from local stores, take advantage of shopping deals, and enjoy samples of chocolate. 409 people embarked on the journey (compared to 2016’s 202) and 149 completed the requirements (visited at least 24 of 34 businesses and reaching each area of town: South Main St., East Main St., West Main St., Highway 24 North and South, and Antero Circle) to be entered in the drawings (compared to 102 completed in 2016). Winners received a Rustic Woods $25 gift certificate, a Jan’s Restaurant $50 gift certificate, a spa pass for two to Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, and a grand prize $75 golden ticket to a Chocolate Walk store of choice thanks to Mary Kale of ReMax MVP.
In addition to various deals around town, some businesses chose to add to the festivities. On East Main Street Watershed BV hosted pop up shops with Usbome Books & More and Wildstone Ceramics. Visitors could enjoy the shops as well as book readings and paint-your-own-pottery. Pinon Real Estate BV hosted a drop off event where kids could watch The Polar Express and enjoy hot cocoa and cookies after while parents shopped. On West Main Street Serendipity Yarn & Gifts hosted Mrs. Claus and her elf assistant as they demonstrated their sock knitting machine and told Christmas jokes. First Colorado Land Office showcased art pieces from Vulcan Glass and offered glass blowing demonstrations, chocolate, and hot beverages were shared all day. On Highway 24 many businesses participated in the Chocolate Walk including The Jealous Neighbor and the View Cafe. Both enjoyed a busy day of traffic and good sales. Sprinkled throughout town were carolers and musicians of all ages and abilities spreading the holiday cheer.
As the afternoon rolled around, the excitement heightened as holiday goers were able to enjoy the BV Heritage Museum Chili Cook-off, the Equine Parade, a visit with Santa, and the events down at South Main Street. The Equine Parade, one of the few winter equine parade in the state, escorted Santa from the American Legion to Christmas Opening Headquarters where he was quickly and anxiously greeted by well over a hundred families. It took a bit of time to get the crowd organized so kids could enjoy the free crafts provided by Valerie Harlan of Pinon Court Cabins or play outside on the town’s new Community Center Park while they waited but after about 20-30 minutes, the routine took hold and most folks waited in line about 10 minutes before they got their photo and visit with Santa. Special thanks beg mentioning here–Thank you to the Santa sponsor, Coldwell Banker-Collegiate Peaks Realty, for getting Kelly Kringle-Beek, our own local and amazing Santa, and for the talented photographer, Catherine Eichel. Photos of the children’s visits with Santa will be e-mailed to the respective families soon. Santa spread his joy to all 166 visitors he saw in the 2.5 hours between parades!
After families saw Santa (or some, before they visited him) many made their way down to South Main Street to continue on their Chocolate Walk journey and to witness the inaugural Arkansas River Polar Plunge. Over 60 jumpers raised $700 for Toys for Tots while 200 onlookers filled the riverside. While by no means a frigid day, the chilly Arkansas River water and cooling shade of the riverside made the experience an invigorating one for jumpers. Even a SUP surfing Santa made an appearance to entertain the spectators. Participants and spectators were able to relax and warm up with happy hour specials from sponsor Eddyline Restaurant at South Main. After the Plunge, the BVHS band entertained The Beach area until the South Main Street tree lighting kicked off the Parade of Lights to the serenading sounds of the BVHS Soundscapes Choir.
Another new addition to this year’s festivities came from Parade of Lights organizer, David Billesbach. He took the idea of the neighborhood Mardis Gras parades in New Orleans and implemented them here in BV. Several groups made their way to the parade route from their respective neighborhoods or chose to walk along and escort Santa to the lighting of the Community Tree at Optimist Splash Park.
After Santa’s recital of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” many folks made their way to the newly renovated Loft Orpheum Theater for the BVHS Soundscapes Choir Holiday Gala. The concert was a fundraiser for the BVHS Choir to go to Carnegie Hall in May 2018 and was sponsored by Elizabeth Gobble, C.P.A. and the Loft Orpheum Theater. The show ended up being a perfect cap on a day filled with community and holiday spirit as BVHS alum and Loft Orpheum Theater owner, Uriah Werner, brought his dream of a beautiful music venue in his hometown to help make the dreams of current BVHS kids come true. The music took listeners on an emotional holiday ride as they listened to heartfelt solo performances as well as rousing renditions of holiday favorites. Choir director Tanner Ohara did a fantastic job of leading the group and encouraging participation and additional donations from the crowd. A particularly hilarious penny-flute solo raised at least an additional $200 in donations as the crowd initially “paid to play” and then had to “pay to stop” the solo. The torture of what threatened to be an 8-minute montage of holiday music with cringe-worthy intentionally misplaced notes and sounds only reached about 3.5-minutes thanks to a final donation from from First Colorado Land Office and Central Colorado Title & Escrow. The audience was quickly rewarded and relieved by a wonderful duet between a piano playing student and singing director. The 50-minute performance raised just over $1000 for the students between ticket sales, bake sale donations, and additional donations.
While the experience of planning and organizing such a large event with so many moving parts is exhausting, it is rewarding to see a community come together and celebrate what makes our town unique and to spread holiday spirit. The day’s successes were made possible because of an energetic, supportive, and motivated group of businesses and volunteers. Looking through the crowds, it was clear to see that this event brought together a variety of demographics, locals, and visitors to celebrate in the unity and good will of the season. We at the BV Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center want to thank everyone who came out for the day and wish one and all a safe and love-filled holiday season!
If you have feedback about the day that you’d like to share, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Danielle Ryan, Executive Assistant at Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center