BY RUTH RICE
It’s time to see Santa Claus in a parade marching down Main Street and turning a switch to light Central Park for the holiday season.
Johnstown’s annual Light-Up Night and Hometown Christmas Parade will be held at 6 p.m. Friday in downtown Johnstown.
The celebration is put together by the Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership.
The parade traditionally features high-flying, holiday-themed balloons, but the increasing cost of helium is making the parade harder to get off the ground.
“We will have a total of 10 balloons,” said Sharon Honkus, owner of Celestial Brides, 142 Market St. in downtown Johnstown.
Honkus is co-chairwoman of the event, along with Jayne Korenoski of the Greater Johnstown Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Six will be helium-filled and four will be cold-air balloons,” Honkus said.
“They’re inflatable like what you would have in your front yard, but they’re massive. They’re on pulleys on a 12-by-12 foot trailer with lower wheels.”
The four cold-air balloons will be Bugs Bunny, a Thanksgiving turkey, holiday kitten and Santa Claus.
The remaining six helium balloons will be holiday oriented.
“We’ve been doing this for 10 years, and this is something different,” Honkus said.
Balloons will be supplied by StarBound Entertainment of New Castle, Lawrence County.
Owner Toni McKay said the Johnstown parade is one of the first parades in the nation where her company’s balloons are used to kick off the holiday season.
“I’m thrilled that, despite the helium crisis, Johnstown went to bat to find a creative way to provide balloons with the cold-air balloons,” McKay said.
“I saw Macy’s do this about 10 years ago. They called them floatoons.”
Balloons at different heights will add to the parade’s appeal.
The cold-air balloons on float dollies will be 24 to 30 feet high, so those who attend the parade will get an up-close look.
Volunteer handlers for the floating balloons are trained by an employee of StarBound Entertainment.
“They’re taught how to manage the balloon in the wind and how to avoid power lines and trees,” McKay said.
“They love doing it. It gives the sponsor a thrill to give back to the community.”
McKay has been busy with balloon parades, having as many as nine in one weekend.
Lightning, sustained high winds exceeding 23 mph or gusts of more than 34 mph would keep the balloons grounded.
This year, StarBound Entertainment will participate in Thanksgiving parades in Philadelphia and Chicago and is even flying to South America to participate in a parade.
The Johnstown parade also will feature floats, high school bands and community groups, with Santa Claus in the honored spot of last place.
“The parade is 35 to 45 minutes because it’s typically cold at this time of the year,” Honkus said.
After coming up Main Street from Point Stadium, the parade will turn left on Clinton Street and come down Locust Street, allowing Santa to stop at Central Park, where he will turn on the Christmas lights and make light-up night official.
Honkus said the downtown partnership has applied for and received a grant from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to make the lights in the park green, not in color, but energy efficient.
“We want to replace all the lights with cool-burning LED lights,” Honkus said.
“We’ll have to do it gradually. It will cost $5,000 to do all of them, and we have $500 to get started.”
After Santa takes his customary seat in the gazebo, he will greet children and allow them to share their Christmas wishes.
Treats for children
Treat bags will be handed out to the first 500 children by representatives from Alternative Community Resource Program.
The parade is advertised as being held rain or shine, but Honkus said organizers have always been lucky with the weather.
“The streets are packed for the parade,” she said.
“Some come early and have dinner with their kids.”
Before the parade begins, members of Inclined to Sing, Johnstown Symphony Orchestra’s children’s chorus, will sing Christmas carols from 5:15 to 5:45 at the Central Park Gazebo.
Tina Honkus, Sharon Honkus’ sister-in-law, heads Wings of Hope, a Hooversville charity that conducts a two-mile Santa Run at 5:30.
The benefit run or walk will begin at Point Stadium and end near Market Street, after completing almost two laps over downtown streets.
Participants will don Santa hats and wear jingle bells on their shoes for the benefit run.
Registration is $18 for adults and $3 for children 12 and younger accompanied by an adult. A group rate also is available.
“Typically, they try to find a child whose family is dealing with their cancer for Christmas and donate the proceeds to them,” Sharon Honkus said for her sister-in-law, who is in Japan on business.
“It stays in the local community. They help families dealing with cancer.”
Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/RuthRiceTD.
What: Light-Up Night and Hometown Christmas Parade.
When: 6 p.m. Friday.
Where: Downtown Johnstown.