Smith takes a look back at a great COTR

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kelley Smith said this year’s Christmas on the River was perhaps the best ever.

Well, sure, you may say. As the COTR director and the president of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce, that’s kind of her job to say that, but her high praise is not just as the director of the festival but also what she is hearing from others.

“We had a great year as far as the planning and logistics,” she said of the organization of the annual festival. “It went unnaturally smooth, thanks to all of the volunteers who worked so hard. They got it down to a science!

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“We know, as organizers, that there are bound to be some bumps in the road, but ost of those, the public did not see.”

There was another strong turnout this year, but Smith said the crowd was down from years past.

“Over the course of the week, we would say that there were 23- to 25,000 people here,” she said. “It was down slightly, especially compared to last year, and we attribute that to the economy in general. People just aren’t traveling as much. Even though gas prices are down, they’re still feeling the crunch.”

The Children’s Day Parade got a lot of compliments, according to Smith.

“We were very pleased with the day parade,” she said. “We got a great response to the floats that we featured. We also got great compliments on the Alabama Boychoir concert, and we hope to have them back next year.

“The Jingle Bell 5-K Run had the most participants ever. We were really pleased with everything.”

The nighttime parade and Gala had an attendance that was lower than last year, but Smith said that was because of the conflict with Alabama’s Southeastern Conference championship game against Florida.

“We had a TV at the Civic Center for that,” she laughed. “A lot of people still came and had a good time. The band, Soul Haven, was great, and we will try to get them back next year. The weather wasn’t a factor, either. It was ideal.”

Smith said that the economic impact of Christmas on the River won’t be known until February.

“That’s when the information will be released,” she said. “We’ll be billed for a lot of things in January.”

Smith wanted to make sure that everyone who helped to make Christmas on the River a success was thanked, to let them know they were appreciated.

“They put in many, many hours of work,” she said. “It is just amazing how well they get things done, and how well they all work together, even when they’re working on separate projects.

“I wanted to thank all of the volunteers, but I also wanted to say the city did an outstanding job. Every department did a great job of working with the Christmas on the River committee and make sure our city shined.

“The police department were more of a presence this year,” she said. “They were more visible and worked to get the traffic flow running smoothly. It was well planned and they had so many signs to help our traffic flow well. Not only did the event run smoothly, but I know that the participants were safer this year. They did a really great job.”

One downside that Smith thought of from this year’s festival was with people moving barricades from the streets so they could drive down the barricaded streets.

“That really is a safety hazard,” she said. “It puts other people — pedestrians and vendors — at risk, and can cause traffic problems, especially when they’re left out of place. It’s just not a smart thing to do.”

She also hoped that people would stop lowering their children onto the streets during the parade over the barricades so they could run and get candy left in the street.

“That is just dangerous on so many different levels,” she said.

Preparations for next year’s Christmas on the River have already begun. Smith said there have already been meetings for the 2009 festival, to be held Nov. 29-Dec. 5, 2009.

“We are in the process of lining out our committee chairs,” she said. “Then, we will officially begin in January. I had heard from so many people that they wanted to help this year, this is a good time to call us here and let me get their names and phone numbers. I want to encourage anyone who wanted to help, even in the least little way, to call us if they want to get involved next year.”

Those interested in helping with the 2009 Christmas on the River festival should contact Smith of Chamber of Commerce office manager Pat Brady at 289-0270.