By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
Sharon’s Night of Lights is getting a makeover.
Among the major changes in store for the annual event is that it will not be held on a weekday before Thanksgiving as in the past, and festivities will begin at noon instead of after sunset.
Events will be held throughout the day on Nov. 30, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, with the headline attractions such as the lighting of the Christmas torch set to begin at 6 p.m.
The date wasn’t a random choice. In recent years the first Saturday after Thanksgiving has become known as Small Business Saturday, when smaller businesses try to steer shoppers their way.
With downtown Sharon getting a boost over the past year with more merchants, organizers wanted to feature an afternoon of shopping with holiday cheer, said Laura Ackley, president of Greater Sharon Associates, which hosts the event.
“There’s a change in attitudes downtown,’’ Ackley said. “A dozen merchants have opened up here in the past year. Things are changing – for the better.’’
Embarking on a theme of “Downtown Shoparound,’’ GSA wants to attract shoppers to buy at stores in the downtown. Among the events that will be offered are a festival of trees, artists showcasing their goods at James E. Winner Jr. Arts & Culture Center, free trolley bus rides and entertainment and refreshments.
Primary Health Network will have gift-wrapping stations throughout the day, and shoppers can register to win prizes donated by merchants.
If this sounds a little similar to the WaterFire Sharon productions put on downtown this past summer and fall, well, it should. Think of it as a WaterFire without the metal baskets of flaming logs in the Shenango River. GSA is looking to borrow many of the concepts used in that wildly successful event, which drew tens of thousands.
Why not just have a WaterFire on this day?
Two reasons, WaterFire Sharon backers say. One is that for every WaterFire performance, the originator in Providence, R.I., must be paid a royalty, which is a princely sum. The second, volunteers would have to dunk themselves in the icy waters of the Shenango River to pull the baskets out of the river afterward – a potentially life-threatening endeavor.
However, there will be a few lighted WaterFire baskets scattered on land throughout the downtown to give a hint of that event.
A few food booths will be downtown during the day, but details are still being worked out. As part of the event, American Express has provided “Small Business Saturday’’ banners, balloons and welcome mats through the Shenango Valley Chamber. Anyone buying more than $100 at a chamber-member small business will be eligible to win one of 50 $25 American Express gift cards. Eligible receipts should be brought to the chamber office on Monday after the event.
Also, American Express will give $10 credits to its individual card holders who use their Amex cards at small businesses on the day.
The evening events starting at 6 p.m. include entertainment on the East State Street Bridge, horse-drawn sleigh rides on wheels for a fee and Santa’s arrival. Fireworks will end the evening.
Free hot chocolate, kettle corn, Daffin’s candy and other treats will be available for shoppers in the evening. Ice sculptor Jeff Kaiser will be on the bridge throughout the day creating an ice sculpture.
Decorations to adorn the downtown will begin going up Nov. 16, and volunteers are welcome to help.