BY TOM LAVIS
Organizers of Johnstown’s annual Light-Up Night and giant balloon Christmas parade want people to delight in Friday’s festivities.
Along with the parade and lighting of the tree in Central Park, revelers may enjoy carols to welcome the season.
Folks will enjoy a variety of floats, high school bands, community marching groups and Santa Claus.
The centerpiece of the festivities is a parade down Main Street that will feature large holiday-themed, helium-filled balloons.
The parade steps off at 6 p.m. from Point Stadium on Johns Street.
“Prior to the parade, we will have members of the Johnstown Symphony Chorus singing holiday music from 5:15 to 5:45,” said Sharyn Spinelli, event coordinator.
Santa Claus will close out the parade, and then will take his customary seat in the Central Park gazebo to greet youngsters and hand out treat-filled bags, distributed by representatives from Alternative Community Resource Program (ACRP).
Santa also will flip the switch to turn Central Park into a magical Christmas village complete with toy houses and thousands of lights.
The effort is lead by the Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership.
Prior to the parade, Wings of Hope, a Hooversville charity, will conduct a two-mile run or walk at 5:40.
The benefit run, where participants will don Santa hats and jingle bells on their shoes, begins at Point Stadium and ends near Market Street after completing nearly two laps over downtown streets.
Registration is $18 for adults and $3 for children 12 and younger accompanied by an adult. A group rate also is available.
“The event benefits a local family facing a cancer issue, but we are teaming up with WKYE-95’s 12 Wishes of Christmas initiative to distribute the proceeds,” Tina Honkus said.
Commemorative snowman medals will be awarded to each run participant.
In addition, participants are encouraged to bring a new toy to help with a collection for local children.
The event is also possible because of generous corporate partners, some of which have sponsored the nine helium balloons that will make their way through town.
“Workers from those companies will serve as balloon handlers as the parade progresses,” Spinelli said.
“We also appreciate the generosity of FOX 8/ABC 23 for underwriting the cost of the helium, which is quite expensive.”
She said the festivities are a good way for people to discover everything that downtown Johnstown has to offer.
“This is a chance for people to see our city all decked out in its holiday finery while enjoying the enchantment of the night,” Spinelli said.
“What makes this so special is seeing the joy on all the children’s faces throughout the entire evening.”
She encourages business owners to transform their stores and shops into holiday displays that will serve as backdrops for the festivities.
Parade-goers will delight at seeing a variety of gigantic balloons supplied by StarBound Entertainment of New Castle, Lawrence County.
Toni McKay, owner of StarBound Entertainment, said the Johnstown parade is one of the first parades in the nation where her company’s balloons are used to kick off the Christmas season.
“Johnstown is second only to Kalamazoo (Mich.) in the nation to use our balloons for the Christmas season,” she said.
“The quality of balloons in the Johnstown parade are exactly the same ones we will be taking to Disney’s Christmas parade in Florida and Thanksgiving parades in Chicago and Philadelphia.”
McKay said Johnstown will use a mix of medium and small balloons.
“We are still dealing with helium being in short supply,” McKay said.
“The high cost of helium is impacting all parades using balloons.”
McKay praised Johnstown parade organizers for finding ways to continue the tradition of flying the balloons at Christmas.
A few of the balloons featured in this year’s parade will include happy Mr. and Mrs. Santa heads, a candy cane, snowflake or snow star, gingerbread man ornament, holly and a bell.
StarBound balloons have been a fixture of Johnstown parades for decades, since the first balloon parade was held at The Galleria in Richland Township.
McKay said volunteer handlers for the company’s balloons are trained the morning of the event. They are taught how to control the balloon’s flight and how to avoid power lines or tree limbs.
“Many of the handlers are parade veterans and assist newcomers when it comes to helping us train them,” McKay said.
McKay said high winds or lightning would keep the balloons grounded.
Balloons are grounded if sustained winds exceed 23 mph and gusts cannot be more than 34 mph.
“Ironically, we have only grounded balloons once in 25 years,” McKay said.
“That was in 1998 in Johnstown and Philadelphia when winds were too strong.”
McKay invited residents to be on the lookout for StarBound balloons when they tune in for ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” over the Thanksgiving weekend.
“We have seven balloons as part of the reveal by host Ty Pennington,” she said.
The parade will make its way up Main Street to Clinton Street and Locust Street. The majority of the units will turn right onto Locust and disband at Jackson Street.
One band will escort Santa’s float from Clinton Street onto Locust Street and into Central Park.
“It depends on what band will be available because of high school football playoff games,” Spinelli said.
What: Light-Up Night and Christmas parade.
Where: Downtown Johnstown.
When: 5:15 p.m. Friday.
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