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Downtown festival in trouble

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Organizers said they need help or Celebration of Lights could end

By Lisa King

Organizers of the Celebration of Lights say the annual festival could be in danger of seeing its last year if they don’t get some help organizing and orchestrating the event.

“The committee from SMART [Shelbyville Merchants for Retail Trade] the ones that do all the running up and down the streets, marking the spots and everything, we’re all in our sixties and seventies, and we need young people to help us,” said Sharon Nichols, one of the original organizers of the event.

The festival, held in early November as an unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season, intended to promote Shelbyville’s retail stores, is in its 27th year. 

Each year the event, sponsored by SMART, sparks the holiday spirit and includes lighting the community Christmas tree on Main Street and caroling on the steps of the old Shelby County Courthouse.

The event has been very big in Shelbyville, with a lot of kid-friendly activities, including a little train from Gallrein’s. Other activities have included a live Nativity scene, a smoke house hosted by firefighters and singing by various children’s choirs.

Main Street is closed to traffic from 7th Street to 4th Street to allow vendors to set up booths along the curbs; there were 62 booths last year, even more than usual.

The trouble is not lack of participation from merchants, but lack of people willing to pull the event together, said Nichols, who is the treasurer of SMART.

Dwindling numbers within that organization is to blame, she said.

“SMART used to have about thirty members and we’re down now to about ten or twelve, and there’s nobody under fifty,” she said. “We’re all the older merchants in town, the Andriots and the Traceys, so we need some new, young blood. We haven’t quit meeting and we still exist and we still want to do the Celebration of Lights. It takes a lot of work and we need help. We just need anybody that would want to help in any way. We’re not going to quit, we’re just trying to get some help with some of the heavy work and let some of us old codgers sit in the background a little.”

That would entail scheduling booth space for merchants, marking them out on the streets, helping everybody find their spots, and working with the crowd, Nichols said.

“There are all kinds of things to do to get everything ready. I used to do most all of it, then I had to delegate some of it to other people. We don’t want to just give it up, as long as we’ve got an ounce of energy left.”

Nichols said the festival is important not only as a retail promotional tool, but also for tradition.

“We just hate to give it up, it’s a way to bond with the people of the community,” she said. “I can remember having the old tobacco festivals as a child. We had parades and everything, and I miss them. It’s ashamed to let things like that die.”

The festival is scheduled for Nov. 8.

Nichols said that anyone who can’t come to the meet and is interested in helping out may contact her at her shop at 633-1112.