Nov 302011
 
Authors: Colleen McSweeney

When Harper Goff, a designer for Disneyland, showed Walt Disney a picture of the town he grew up in, Disney loved it –– so much so, he wanted the theme park’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 Town’s 1910s architecture represented the ideal, picturesque all-American town. And that’s why today, a century later, Fort Collins’ 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.

“Old Town has always had that certain bit of magic,” Lyle said. “And during the holidays, I like to have people feel that same community pride but with a little extra sparkle.”

For the past 11 years, Lyle has been in charge of the Old Town Christmas entertainment –– including carolers and Santa Claus –– and she also helps organize the holiday decoration.

And a vital part of the decorations, something that makes the town literally “sparkle,” are the thousands of lights glinting atop the trees in Old Town from early-November to mid-February.

“We like to kind of make it look like it’s snowing lights,” Lyle said. “We’re trying to make things a little less dreary and more bright during these dark, cold months.”

Every year, the Fort Collins DBA hires an outside landscaping company to put up the lights –– 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 –– 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 he’s seen the town’s Christmas celebrations grow every year.

“I think the Downtown Business Association has done a great job promoting the events lately –– more people have been showing up for the carriage rides and ice skating rink,” Rice said.

“It’s great, since my favorite part about this job is seeing the joy on all the people’s faces during the holidays.”

Rice’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.

“We’re big shop-local, buy-local people –– we’d like our tax money to go to support Fort Collins,” he said.

And that local support is something DBA’s Lyle says she strives for every holiday season.

“The DBA has two main goals when planning everything for the season,” she said.

“First, we want to create a memorable holiday experience for the community –– 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.”

Old Town businesses during the holidays

One of the businesses that enjoys the “support local” movement during the holiday season is Old Town’s kitchen supply and specialty food store, The Cupboard.

“Having Santa, the lights and the ice skating rink really adds something to the Old Town shopping experience,” Jim Hewitt, the current owner and son of The Cupboard’s founder, said.

“You know, people are in a good mood this time of year,” he said. “Everybody just seems happy and in good spirits, you know?”

The Old Town store Ten Thousand Villages –– located right next to Lucky Joe’s –– is a fair trade retailer of “artisan-crafted home decor, personal accessories and gift items from across the globe” that also sees significant local support during the holiday season.

“We do half of our annual sales during the last seven weeks of the year,” said the store’s manager Wendy Poppen.

“This time of year is fantastic –– we really love it.”

Santa makes Old Town home

Nine years ago, when the DBA needed someone to start playing Santa in Old Town Square, they didn’t have to search far.

Apparently, Santa was already living in Fort Collins.

“Who knew the ‘real Santa’ was living right here all along?” said DBA’s Lyle.

The Old Town Santa, who asked to be called either “Kris” or “Nick,” has worked all around the country as the jolly old fat man –– most notably at New York City’s Macy’s.

But when he moved to Fort Collins after “leaving Mrs. Claus at the North Pole,” Santa approached the DBA about setting up his workshop in Old Town.

“They turned my workshop into a pretty little Colorado-log cabin type thing. It’s a really pretty place to work,” Santa said.

Old Town’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.

“I can also say ‘Merry Christmas’ in 38 languages!” 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.

“People need to remember to love one another and not get too pushy-shovey like they can during this time of year,” he said.

“During dark, cold times like these, you have to show people you care about them –– it’s those little acts of kindness that make everything about Christmas time so great”

Editorial Editor Colleen McSweeney is a junior journalism major. She can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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