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Coordinated holiday festivities a big success

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Photo by Tamie Meck Ross Allen drives black Percherons Chip, right, and Dale onto Third Street from Grand Avenue during Saturday's annual free hayrides. The hayrides have become a holiday tradition in Paonia.

In the days leading up to last weekend's Paonia holiday festivities, Mike Drake was feeling pretty good. "I just had a feeling this was going to be really great," said Drake, president of the Paonia Chamber of Commerce.

By all indications, said Drake, the event was a huge success. Downtown was bustling as local businesses and organizations held open houses Friday evening and all day Saturday. Shoppers took advantage of samples of food and drink and sales of local products including ceramics, artwork, jewelry and more. Restaurants were busy. Traditions were enjoyed, and at least one new tradition was born.

While the festivities -- open houses, Santa's visit to the Eccentric Artist gallery, wine tastings, and sales galore -- have been part of the Paonia holidays for years, what changed is that those who have participated on their own year after year made a decision to join in an effort to market the weekend as one big downtown holiday event, said Drake.

After enjoying last year's festivities, the chamber realized that the early holiday celebration, held annually on the first or second weekend of December, lacked coordination, said Drake. He saw a lot of individual events, and a lot of individual advertisements in local papers.

"The chamber saw an opportunity," said Drake. If businesses would agree to it, the chamber could market the festivities under one name.

A lot of things are happening with the chamber, including the hiring this year of an office manager. When the Paonia Library called to get a sense of which weekend would be best to hold its annual holiday puppet show, then office manager Courtney Mullins responded, and she and chamber director Annette Pretorius with the Blue Sage Center for the Arts began contacting businesses and coordinating efforts.

"Everyone bought into it," said Drake. The community did all the work. "We were the catalyst."

The concept was tried during this year's Mountain Harvest Festival when the Chamber hosted "Downtown Day" on Friday of the three-day festival. That was also a big success. They are now looking to apply the concept to the 2016 Cherry Days. With three annual, major multi-day events happening, "More people are getting involved," said Drake. "And more people are coming to town."

One partner was the Town of Paonia, which hosted a tree-lighting ceremony Friday night at Poulos Park. Mayor Neal Schwieterman, also an airplane pilot, shared a story about a bush pilot who said there are four things one needs to check before takeoff: fuel, flaps, magnetos, and attitude. "Any one of those things goes wrong and you end up in the drink and it's not good results."

While traditions may vary from household to household, "What we have here in Paonia is a really cool thing," said Schwieterman before the lighting of the tree adorned with old-fashioned lights installed by the Delta Montrose Electric Association. "Here in Paonia we have FCC: family, friends, and community... Those are the important things in life," he said before the tree was lit and the crowd broke out in singing. "Enjoy your holiday."

Photo by Tamie Meck Revelers enjoy the Town of Paonia tree lighting ceremony Friday night. Mayor Neal Schwieterman welcomed the crowd to “what I hope is the first annual tree lighting in Poulos Park.”
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