Downtown community comes alive this weekend

Joe Shearer

Businesses collecting toys for Kent children

Economy got you down? Feeling like a Grinch or a Scrooge (or worse, both)?

Well, there may be a way to remedy both holiday ailments – in one night, no less.

The annual Festival of Lights flicks on at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow in downtown Kent, beginning with a performance from the Theodore Roosevelt ACES Chorus. Shortly after, at about 6 p.m., the city will come alive, showing off its Christmas lights and decorations.

In his first year running this event, Bill Hoover, executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, said although the main attractions – free hot chocolate and doughnuts, Santa’s arrival, a letter-writing station – are geared more toward families, he strongly encourages everyone in the community to come downtown and enjoy the atmosphere.

“There’s a lot going on for people to do, and it’s not necessary that you have kids to enjoy the evening here,” Hoover said.

For instance, Hoover said, many of the downtown shops will have extended hours, including the art galleries. He also said Kent Natural Foods Co-op will have an open house all day and a holiday taste fair in the evening from 5-8 p.m.

Because so many people and groups are helping to put together the event (Kent Junior Mothers, Kent Lions Club, Kiwanas Club of Kent, etc.), total cost is difficult to estimate. (One component the Chamber of Commerce decided to cut this year was the free carriage rides. Hoover cited the increased Main Street traffic from the Crain Avenue bridge closing as being the main issue.)

“(The purpose of the event) is to provide a community celebration in downtown to kick off the holiday season,” Hoover said. “It’s really a group effort. It’s another event we hope will showcase downtown Kent and the businesses that are here.”

Along with the Festival of Lights, many downtown shops are also participating in Kent Social Services’ Downtown Toy Drive. Running since late November, toy donations will be accepted through the weekend. (It officially concludes Monday, Dec. 8.)

Karen Barrett, co-owner of City Bank Antiques, organized this year’s drive. She said last year was “almost the last parent to the last toy,” meaning these toys provide parents who don’t have enough income, the ability to pick something out for their children.

For Barrett and Kent Social Services, that was too close, so Barrett decided to try and get downtown businesses to help.

“In the past, we’ve never had businesses unite and do a toy drive,” Barrett said. “So, I just went around and asked a few if they’d be willing, and everything was very positive.”

Twenty-five businesses and other entities have drop-offs, including Ray’s Place, Pufferbelly Ltd. Restaurant and Bar, the Kent Stage, Guy’s Pizza, Anthony’s CafĂ©, Smokin’ Tattooz and many others. Some of the involved businesses offer incentives for donations.

“Everyone is pretty good-hearted in the community,” Barrett said. “I think it’s really wonderful that the businesses are willing to do this. It doesn’t really bring them business, but it brings a heightened awareness of the problem in the economy and with certain families that just don’t have the resources.”

And, while Barrett acknowledges the economy is making it more difficult to donate and help others, she said she hopes people will do what they can to especially help children.

“There isn’t anybody that’s exempt from the economic crisis,” Barrett said. “If we just concentrate on our own plight, we’re really missing the boat.”

Contact public affairs reporter Joe Shearer at [email protected].