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Bill Kirby Jr.: Downtown Alliance plans to hold A Dickens Holiday


Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say the holiday tree that goes up in downtown Fayetteville is owned by the Cool Spring Downtown District.

No A Dickens Holiday?

Members of the Downtown Alliance beg to differ. On yes, oh yes, there will be A Dickens Holiday downtown from 1 to 8 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving, just like there has been for the past 22 years, the organization says.

“We’re going to do Dickens,” says Elaine Kelly, owner of Turner Lane and secretary of the alliance. Plans call for it to be held around the Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum on Franklin and Maxwell streets.

In a news release Thursday, the Downtown Alliance says it has been welcomed to continue A Dickens Holiday the day after Thanksgiving in tandem with the Arts Council’s rebranded event, “Holidays on Hay … A Season of Light.’’ The board of directors for the Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County on Aug. 22 announced it was ending A Dickens Holiday and moving forward with the rebranded event.

Kicking Tiny Tim out of town didn’t bode well with some in the community.

“Continuing the ideals of creating a unique holiday and shopping experience,” an Arts Council news release initially said, “the rebranding of the event helps to reposition the holiday festivity by broadening the appeal of its programming to be a more inclusive, engaging, and memorable experience for all to enjoy. These efforts embrace the Arts Council’s commitment to providing quality, culturally enriched programming that welcomes all communities throughout the region to participate.”

Since that decision, A Dickens Holiday has been something of the talk of the town, or shall we say the talk of downtown for sure. Downtown merchants such as Hank Parfitt have been upset about the decision, including the Arts Council's suggestion that the event has failed to be inclusive to all. Never has anyone been denied to participate in the Victorian-era theme of characters dressed in attire from Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol,’’ Parfitt says.

Parfitt said in an email on Sept. 2 that Deborah Mintz, who co-founded A Dickens Holiday, was adamant from the beginning that “she wanted everyone to feel welcome and enjoy the message of ‘A Christmas Carol’ acted out in real time in downtown Fayetteville.”

Retiring A Dickens Holiday has met with criticism, including email and social-media attacks on the Arts Council, its staff and board of directors, according to Rick Allen, the board president.

‘Old traditions and creating new ones’

“The holiday season is a time of celebration, of life and love, of old traditions and creating new ones,” Isabella Effon, owner of Taste of West Africa, says in the Downtown Alliance news release.

Effon is president of the Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit organization of downtown businesses. Other board members include John Malzone, vice president; Robin Matthews, treasurer and owner of A Bit of Carolina; and Molly Arnold, owner of Rude Awakening coffee house. The alliance, Kelly says, is comprised of about 60 to 70 downtown merchants.

There still are a few hurdles for the Downtown Alliance to clear. It is awaiting approval of a special event permit from the Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation Department and the city.

“All is pending the permit,” Malzone says. “But this will be for the citizens of Fayetteville, and it will be a wonderful sense of community.”

Dickens festivities will be centered around downtown's historic Victorian-era train station, according to the release. Come in your most dashing Victorian dress if you wish, and experience horse-drawn carriage rides, Christmas carolers and those Dickens characters including Tiny Tim and Ebeneezer Scrooge.

The old Victorian train depot there is a perfect backdrop,’’ Parfitt says in an email Thursday. “I am especially glad that the Arts Council agreed to holding both events on the same day. Now visitors downtown will be able to walk along Maxwell Street from one event to the other and enjoy both! It is definitely a win-win for our community.’’

So, apparently, everything hinges on the city special event permit.

“An application was submitted by the Downtown Alliance for a Dickens Holiday,” says Jodi Phelps, chief of staff for the City Manager’s Office.

It will be reviewed on Tuesday, Phelps says.

“Our intent is to stop the negative and bring about a sense of continuity,” Kelly says. “We want to work in tandem with the Arts Council. Everybody just needs to get behind it and come down and celebrate.”

‘You may cheer!’

Bob Pinson is interim president and chief executive officer of the Arts Council. Pinson said Thursday he will meet with Kelly to discuss details of what the Downtown Alliance has in mind.

There is one lingering question, however.

Will there be a candlelight procession to the Market House, where Malzone welcomes Dickens-goers as the Victorian-era town crier and his familiar chant of “You may cheer!” to the delight of all?

“As far as the candles go, we are still discussing, but are looking to use the candles in conjunction with the lighting of the holiday tree as has been done for many years now,” Pinson says. “The tree has grown to a size that it no longer fits under the Market House, so most likely it will be along Hay Street.”

The tree is 22 feet high, Pinson says, and is owned by the Cool Spring Downtown District, which likes to add to the growth of the tree each year.


Sign that special event permit, enjoy A Dickens Holiday, “Holidays on Hay… A Season of Lights,’’ and all of the trappings of the coming Christmas season.

Raise your candles one and all the day after Thanksgiving. And when you do, the town crier will be there with those holiday words of the spirit of the season.

“You may cheer!”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., A Dickens Holiday, Downtown Alliance, Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County