After almost a year of planning, the United Way of Marion County held its second annual Market in the Park at Morris Park over the weekend, surprising everyone involved when the event brought in 2,500 attendants.
The market was host to more than 30 local vendors and artisans, who set up at Morris Park among more than 400 Christmas lights. While officials were expecting between 1,600 and 2,000 people, they never imagined the event taking off the way it did.
“We were not expecting that many, but we were thrilled with the turnout,” United Way of Marion County Executive Director Brett White said. “It just shows that our community wants this event and is excited about getting out to the park and shopping at local artisans and being a part of this community.”
While the vendors were the main draw, the event also gave participants the chance to walk through the lights instead of driving through them, as is customary when the Celebration of Lights begins in earnest after Thanksgiving.
“People just enjoy getting out to see the lights,” White said. “The lights aren’t something many people get to see up close, because when you’re driving through, you don’t really get to stop and see the signs, so I think people really enjoy walking through the lights and seeing them up close.
“It’s like a grand opening of the lights, really. It gives you an up front, close view of the lights before anybody even drives through in the cars. We’re excited about that. It becomes the showcase of the lights now, and we want that to continue.”
Blair Nuzum-Wise, who has served as a co-chair in planning both market events, said that she couldn’t believe the turnout, as more and more community members began filtering into the park, getting off shuttles that carted them from the parking area at East Fairmont High School.
“I was so overwhelmed,” Nuzum-Wise said. “It was great to see everyone in the vendor village milling around and being very happy.”
She said that a lot of hard work has gone into making this event what it was, and she was very happy with the result.
“Planning started in January, basically as soon as last year’s Celebration of Lights was over,” Nuzum-Wise said. “We started giving vendor applications out in May, and then started the planning, organization and logistics in August.”
Still, White said that the market is still in its infancy, and it will take some time before the event is truly perfected.
“It’s only our second year,” White said. “There are still kinks that need to be worked out. We understand that. We know that parking becomes an issue. … We made significant improvements over the first year, and we’re going to continue to improve on it. We’re going to continue to take feedback and make it better.”
White said that one of the issues was with transportation. Some of the shuttles couldn’t make it up the hill to the park itself, forcing attendants to walk from the street to the park.
Despite some hiccups, everyone was pleased with the event’s outcome. Marion County Chamber of Commerce President Tina Shaw, who is also serving as this year’s United Way campaign chair, said that the market is not only a boon for the United Way and the attendants, but for the vendors, as well.
“As far as the small business owner goes, it just gives them another opportunity to get their products out there to probably a crowd that wouldn’t normally see their products,” Shaw said. “That opens to the door to 2,500 people walking by your table to see what you do. Hopefully, they become new customers.”
Now, the United Way is setting its sights on the Celebration of Lights proper, which will begin this weekend. Like every year in the past, White said that 2018 looks to be the biggest year for the event yet, with presales already breaking records.
“We’ve already sold more tickets on Groupon than we did all of last year, and the drive nights haven’t even started yet, “White said. “The presale tickets are up from last year, as well. We’ve made a concerted effort this year to do some more advertising throughout the region… to let folks know that there is another option other than just the Oglebay lights. We have one right in our backyard.”
Both White and Shaw praised the Celebration of Lights, and encouraged everyone to stop by Morris Park this holiday season for a night they’ll never forget.
“It needs to be a Christmas tradition,” Shaw said. “You drive through that park and it just fills you up with the spirit of Christmas, seeing those lights. To me, it never gets old. I go through two or three times per year. It is just a great, festive thing to do.”
To become a volunteer and help plan next year’s Market in the Park, contact the United Way at 304-366-4550.
By: John Mark Shaver- Staff Writer
The Fairmont News
November 21, 2018