When Harper Goff, a designer for Disneyland, showed Walt Disney a picture of the town he grew up in, Disney loved it â€“â€“ so much so, he wanted the theme parkâ€™s Main Street to be modeled after it.
Goff grew up in Old Town, Fort Collins in the early 1900s.
Both Disney and Goff thought Old Townâ€™s 1910s architecture represented the ideal, picturesque all-American town. And thatâ€™s why today, a century later, Fort Collinsâ€™ Downtown Business Association (DBA) puts so much effort into making the town shine during the holiday season.
Even though Old Town has transitioned and developed over the years, it still, according to DBA Programming and Event Director Peggy Lyle, holds the same charm that inspired Walt Disney over a century ago.
â€œOld Town has always had that certain bit of magic,â€ Lyle said. â€œAnd during the holidays, I like to have people feel that same community pride but with a little extra sparkle.â€
For the past 11 years, Lyle has been in charge of the Old Town Christmas entertainment â€“â€“ including carolers and Santa Claus â€“â€“ and she also helps organize the holiday decoration.
And a vital part of the decorations, something that makes the town literally â€œsparkle,â€ are the thousands of lights glinting atop the trees in Old Town from early-November to mid-February.
â€œWe like to kind of make it look like itâ€™s snowing lights,â€ Lyle said. â€œWeâ€™re trying to make things a little less dreary and more bright during these dark, cold months.â€
Every year, the Fort Collins DBA hires an outside landscaping company to put up the lights â€“â€“ a process that, on average, takes four to six weeks. And as of three years ago, the lights in town have all been LED and environmentally friendly.
But the landscaping company is one of the few outside sources Lyle uses for the holiday celebrations in Old Town. As often as possible, she likes to pull from within the Fort Collins community to make Christmas come alive.
The horse-drawn carriages that gallop through Old Town every holiday season come from Colorado Carriage Company â€“â€“ and the general manager Jim Rice is a fourth-generation Fort Collins resident.
Rice, who has driven one of the carriages for the past 11 years in Old Town, said heâ€™s seen the townâ€™s Christmas celebrations grow every year.
â€œI think the Downtown Business Association has done a great job promoting the events lately â€“â€“ more people have been showing up for the carriage rides and ice skating rink,â€ Rice said.
â€œItâ€™s great, since my favorite part about this job is seeing the joy on all the peopleâ€™s faces during the holidays.â€
Riceâ€™s Fort Collins roots have led him to develop a strong support for local businesses, leading him and his family to almost only use Old Town businesses for holiday shopping.
â€œWeâ€™re big shop-local, buy-local people â€“â€“ weâ€™d like our tax money to go to support Fort Collins,â€ he said.
And that local support is something DBAâ€™s Lyle says she strives for every holiday season.
â€œThe DBA has two main goals when planning everything for the season,â€ she said.
â€œFirst, we want to create a memorable holiday experience for the community â€“â€“ we want them to feel the holiday spirit in their city. And second, we want to help support local businesses during this critical time of the year.â€
Old Town businesses during the holidays
One of the businesses that enjoys the â€œsupport localâ€ movement during the holiday season is Old Townâ€™s kitchen supply and specialty food store, The Cupboard.
â€œHaving Santa, the lights and the ice skating rink really adds something to the Old Town shopping experience,â€ Jim Hewitt, the current owner and son of The Cupboardâ€™s founder, said.
â€œYou know, people are in a good mood this time of year,â€ he said. â€œEverybody just seems happy and in good spirits, you know?â€
The Old Town store Ten Thousand Villages â€“â€“ located right next to Lucky Joeâ€™s â€“â€“ is a fair trade retailer of â€œartisan-crafted home decor, personal accessories and gift items from across the globeâ€ that also sees significant local support during the holiday season.
â€œWe do half of our annual sales during the last seven weeks of the year,â€ said the storeâ€™s manager Wendy Poppen.
â€œThis time of year is fantastic â€“â€“ we really love it.â€
Santa makes Old Town home
Nine years ago, when the DBA needed someone to start playing Santa in Old Town Square, they didnâ€™t have to search far.
Apparently, Santa was already living in Fort Collins.
â€œWho knew the â€˜real Santaâ€™ was living right here all along?â€ said DBAâ€™s Lyle.
The Old Town Santa, who asked to be called either â€œKrisâ€ or â€œNick,â€ has worked all around the country as the jolly old fat man â€“â€“ most notably at New York Cityâ€™s Macyâ€™s.
But when he moved to Fort Collins after â€œleaving Mrs. Claus at the North Pole,â€ Santa approached the DBA about setting up his workshop in Old Town.
â€œThey turned my workshop into a pretty little Colorado-log cabin type thing. Itâ€™s a really pretty place to work,â€ Santa said.
Old Townâ€™s Santa can speak English, Spanish and American Sign Language, and he says he loves being able to speak with all the children in Fort Collins.
â€œI can also say â€˜Merry Christmasâ€™ in 38 languages!â€ he said.
Since his workshop is located in the middle of Old Town square, surrounded by local businesses, Santa said he sees how hectic things can become during the holiday season. But he wants people to remember the true spirit of the season.
â€œPeople need to remember to love one another and not get too pushy-shovey like they can during this time of year,â€ he said.
â€œDuring dark, cold times like these, you have to show people you care about them â€“â€“ itâ€™s those little acts of kindness that make everything about Christmas time so greatâ€
Editorial Editor Colleen McSweeney is a junior journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.