United in making spirits bright

November 17, 2018

Last year at Christmastime, New Haven attorney and artist Doug Runyan took a trip to Marshall, Michigan, and, enthralled by the historic municipality’s holiday decorations, snapped a few photos and posted them on Facebook.

His caption: “This is what Christmas decorations should look like in New Haven.”

The post, he said, “struck a nerve.”  Soon enough, people were commenting on it by the score, mostly complaining about New Haven’s apparent lack of Christmas spirit. 

But, within weeks, residents had formed another Facebook page called I Love New Haven and were arranging to meet as a group to discuss how New Haven could shed its Charlie Brown Christmas image.

Over the years, said Charlie Hatten, president and chief executive officer of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce, the city’s decorations had dwindled to small banners hung from light poles and a 30-some-year-old tree : one made of circles on a metal frame that got only a few lights.

“It was pretty bad,” he said.  

But in the last year, I Love New Haven has raised more than $15,000 for new electrified decorations. A young contest winner will flip the switch at a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Canal Landing.

“It was interesting to see how people came together and said, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s raise some money,’” Runyan said last week.

Runyan even put some money where his mouth is : he contributed enough to buy an LED-lit swag of snowflakes that will hang across Broadway Street in the business district of the city of 15,000.

The chamber, the New Haven Community Foundation and the city each chipped in about $2,000 to buy the new ornaments. A pancake breakfast and other fundraisers brought in more, Hatten said, and individuals and businesses dug deep.

New Haven Realtor Steve McMichael, a City Council member now running for mayor upon the upcoming retirement of Terry McDonald, helped organize the group’s efforts.

So far, Hatten said, enough money has been raised to decorate every light standard on Broadway from Schnelker Park to Powers Street. The group even overcame an obstacle when it was discovered the outlets on many poles had deteriorated and needed to be replaced.

Less than half were actually working, but Dave Jones, utility director, contacted Steve Gottfried of Service Electric and a plan to replace all the outlets was created, with Gottfried agreeing to donate the labor, Hatten said. 

The group hopes to buy more decorations to install by Dec. 7 because “money is still coming in,” Hatten said.

Besides the lighting, the ceremony will include music and caroling and holiday crafts for children, Hatten said. He predicted that 90 percent of merchants will stay open Friday night for  residents’ shopping convenience. 

“This has really gotten downtown merchants excited about Christmas this year,” he said.

McMichael said community Christmas spirit is back in New Haven, and he thinks it will extend beyond the holidays.

I Love New Haven already has picked a project for 2019 : new benches for downtown, he said. 

“We’re a community that can do anything we put our minds to,” McMichael said. “We got everybody on board and made something happen.”

So, in New Haven at Christmas this year, it’s indeed a wonderful life. 

“I think New Haven is going to look very Bedford Fallsish this year,” McMichael said.


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