Christmas may still be months away, but preparations for downtown Oswego’s Christmas Walk festivities are already underway and residents might notice a few changes to their beloved event.
Oswego Village Board members mulled over several proposed changes on Tuesday evening in an effort to generate revenue, expand activities, and make the most of the anticipated evening.
Economic Development Director Corinna Cole has suggested combining the village’s annual tree-lighting ceremony and the Christmas Walk event, which generally happen a week apart.
The tree lighting ceremony, which takes place at Village Hall the Sunday preceding the Christmas Walk, could be moved to the actual day of the event, Cole suggested. Years ago, when the tree was situated on Main Street, these two events were combined. When the tree moved to its Village Hall location, the events were separated.
“The separation occurred because there weren’t other festivities up at Village Hall during the Christmas Walk,” Cole said. She suggested that change.
Horse-drawn carriages, craft and activity booths, inflatables and the tree could be stationed at Village Hall, with trolley service to bring visitors back to Main Street, she said.
With about 6,000 people attending the event, the extra space would be welcomed, Cole noted.
“There are efficiencies that can be achieved by combining these two events,” she said.
Village Board members agreed.
“I love the idea of combining the walk and the lighting,” Trustee Ryan Kauffman said. “It will create great synergy.”
Cole also tossed around several ideas for revenue generation that could be instated during the festivities.
Charging booth and food truck fees, as well as a nominal fee for some of the entertainment options, were considered. Cole suggested wristbands (one for $3, or two for $5) could be purchased and would allow for unlimited use of the event’s inflatables, ice rink and train ride. She said pay stations where the bands could be purchased could be set up inside brick-and-mortar merchants or at booths.
Trustee Joe West raised concerns about this proposed practice.
“People line up for an activity and they’re not expecting to pay,” he said. “That’s part of the fun.”
He said that families standing in line, only to realize when they get to the front that they are without a wristband, could create unhappy residents.
“That’s not what we want,” he said.
Trustees said additional advertising promoting the new fees will be crucial to preventing this occurrence.
Others expressed concerns about charging booth fees for nonprofit agencies or businesses providing free activities as part of the event’s allure. Trustees debated whether all booths should pay, or whether booths that aren’t participating for a profit or for fundraising purposes should be exempt.
“We asked for these events to create some type of revenue, and there aren’t a lot of opportunities at a Christmas Walk,” Trustee Pam Parr said. “As far as I know, all nonprofits pay a fee for PrairieFest, this should be no different.”
The changes are not set in stone, but those looking to set up booths, provide food or enjoy some of the event’s activities should be aware that new fees may be applied.
Jenette Sturges, the village of Oswego’s community engagement coordinator, responded to some negative comments on the Ledger’s Facebook page about the proposals Wednesday morning.
“All stores can, of course, open their doors and participate free of charge, as always,” Sturges wrote. “The change is that we will be charging small vendor fees to food trucks and other businesses who set up a tent just for the event, which is standard practice at most events. This helps us make the event more sustainable, so that we can continue to offer great community events while being careful with the community’s tax dollars. There will be no fees to participate for our brick-and-mortar Main Street businesses, unless they would like to buy an ad in Christmas Walk program. (All Christmas Walk events at every business will be listed in the program for free as always.)”
She continued, “The only changes that event-goers will notice are: (1) the unlimited wristbands for some of the kids’ activities, similar to unlimited ride wristbands at PrairieFest, (2) the tree lighting on the same day, and (3) some additional activity offerings to give people even more to enjoy. The Christmas Walk is a beloved tradition, and is absolutely about bringing people together for a community-building tradition in the heart of our downtown.”