BUCKHANNON – “When you involve the kids, everyone gets involved,” the president of the Buckhannon-Upshur Retail Merchants Association said this week.
That’s the philosophy behind “An Adventure in Toyland,” a magical holiday event for youth scheduled for 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14 in the parking lot of the Salvation Army, BURMA President Jerry Henderson said Wednesday.
The free, public event will recreate a ‘Toyland’ with multiple scenes – or vignettes – in the North Spring Street area. The idea, Henderson said, is to not only create an interactive experience for kids and their parents or guardians, but also to spotlight some of businesses located on Spring Street and other side streets in downtown Buckhannon.
That was the idea behind the Whoville-themed event featuring the Grinch last year: to highlight businesses on North Kanawha Street that residents and visitors who commonly frequent downtown Buckhannon might not think about when eating and shopping.
“We had about 300 people last year,” Henderson, owner of the Baxa Inn, said, “and so people got to realize that there were quite a few businesses that they might not have thought to do business with on this (North Kanawha) Street. That’s what we’re hoping to do on Spring Street.”
Henderson mentioned China Wok, the Whistestop Bar and Grill and Southern States, among others.
“There are businesses that are sometimes not thought of when people are trying to decide where they’re going to eat or shop,” she said. “It’s important that people have an awareness of what their options are before they get into the habit of always going to big box stores first.”
So, what can kids and their accompaniers expect to see and do as they adventure through Toyland?
Although all businesses owners in Buckhannon are encouraged to decorate their store windows in accordance with the theme of “An Adventure in Toyland,” Toyland itself will come to life in city Lot 3 behind Jesterline on Main Street and in front of the Salvation Army.
“Basically, we’re trying to recreate for the children what Santa’s Land, what the North Pole, might look like,” Henderson said. “Their first stop is going to be at Santa’s Post Office, where there will be a post mistress and children will get form letters to fill in and personalize for Santa.”
“The good thing about that is, the child will get a personal letter from Santa in return,” she added. “Instead of just a letter, it might say, ‘Dear Bobby, please tell Grandma that we appreciate her bringing you to Toyland and I’ll try to bring a doggie bone for Spot.’ Personalized letters add to the believability of the experience.”
From the post office, kids will make their way through a number of experiential, festive scenes, including a Raggedy-Ann-style house, where they’ll get to assemble a doll; a Technology Townhouse, where they can watch old-time cartoons; and an arts center with a vocalist and artist who will invite youth to sketch along with her.
“We will have mechanical dolls played by dancers from the Dance Factory that will be dancing and circulating among the crowd, and there will even be a North Pole Pet Shop, where kids will receive a gift of a stuffed animal,” Henderson said.
At the pet shop, BURMA, Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility and LUV 4 Animals will be encouraging families to adopt shelter pets.
“We’re advocating that instead of shopping at a pet store, that you might go to the pound and adopt an animal, and if the weather is not unreasonable, we may have a few animals there up for adoption,” Henderson said.
Other stops include Santa’s Elf Garage and Mrs. Claus’s Bakery. On their journeys through Toyland, kids will receive cookies and hot chocolate, popcorn and samplings of Santa’s favorite ice creams – Peppermint Stick and Eggnog, courtesy of Sweet-A-Licious on Main Street. While those treats will be free, vendors will also be on site selling other food offerings, including baked goods and pork barbecue.
In addition, the Buckhannon-Upshur High School band will be playing a few holiday hits and kids can play Pin the Red Nose on Rudolph, among other games. Henderson said the event is appropriate for toddlers through children age 12.
BURMA purposely partnered with a number of businesses, individuals and community organizations, including the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Association, CEOS, B&L Friendly Kitchen, the ProStart Class at B-UHS, the B-U Band, the Dance Factory, Dollar Tree, Jesterline, the City of Buckhannon, China Wok, Jesterline, Fuzzy the Clown, Problem Solvers Consulting Loudin Insurance Agency, Sweet-A-Licious and other community partners.
“Last year, not only did the children enjoy it, but the parents also came up and told me how much they enjoyed it because it was something their children were so taken with,” Henderson said. “It was something where they could walk up and touch something or talk to somebody, and so they liked that it was interactive.”
Mayor Dave McCauley, who’s expected to be dressed up as a marionette for the occasion, will read a proclamation at 6 p.m. sharp declaring the opening of Toyland.
To align with the theme, the City of Buckhannnon’s Downtown Decorating Committee is encouraging businesses to decorate their windows so they reflect the theme of “An Adventure in Toyland,” and Winter Wagon Rides will take off from Lot 3.
Businesses who want to participate in the storefront decorating initiative and contest should fill out an application available here and submit it at city hall before the Christmas Parade Friday, Dec. 6. (Read about window-decorating guidelines here.)
“We chose this theme based on the committee members thinking about toys as being a central part of a child’s early Christmas,” Henderson said. “It’s something we thought people could have more resources to draw from in decorating than if it were a more difficult theme.”