Dear Destination Thomasville Tourism Authority,
As you know, Thomasville’s Victorian Christmas Festival has been a beloved event in downtown Thomasville for the last 31 years. What began as a humble shopping event in 1985 has grown tremendously into a 30,000 visitor event, with crowds topping 15,000 each night of the two-day event. As we embark on our 32nd year, we wanted to gather input from you so that we can be sure that this year’s event continues to represent our community and serve the needs of our downtown merchants.
History of Victorian Christmas Festival
The festival began in 1985 when a group of dedicated merchants decided to create an event to promote shopping and dining in downtown Thomasville. The goal was to recreate the atmosphere of our thriving resort era, when wealthy Northerners would flock to Thomasville in the late 1800s. Downtown Thomasville prospered during this boom, with several Victorian hotels and an abundance of specialty shops to meet our visitors’ every need. During the resort era, much socializing was carried on between the visitors and the locals in the heart of downtown and with this in mind; a two-day event to bring visitors to the shops of downtown was born.
Shopkeepers and locals alike dressed in Victorian costume to set the stage for the event that has always been held the second Thursday and Friday in December. In the early days, merchants opened their doors and invited guests in for warm beverages and holiday confections, all while introducing shoppers to the eclectic mix of wares found in our downtown community.
Soon, entertainment was added in the form of strolling carolers and local musical groups, strategically placed on corners and sidewalks throughout downtown. Colorful characters of the past were reincarnated, such as the Little Match Girl, Chimney Sweeps and Lamp Lighters to light the lamps and chime the hour. Local churches became involved by offering a live nativity, as more entertainment and experiences outside of shopping became more prevalent. During some years, a descendent of Charles Dickens was added to host live readings and authentic Victorian Lantern Slides were featured. Food vendors were added and horse-drawn carriages along Broad Street became a festival staple.
Thomasville’s Victorian Christmas Festival became an often-emulated holiday event of the southeast, winning numerous ‘Best of’ awards for various organizations. As our reputation grew, more and more visitors came to join our holiday festivities. Many locals who never visit our downtown come and enjoy the Victorian Christmas Festival. Hotels are routinely booked solid and the event now pulls more than 30,000 visitors and shoppers to downtown Thomasville.
As our humble festival evolved over the years, we’ve had various challenges related to organizing and executing a successful event of this size. In our early days, the challenge was simply attracting people to our downtown area. Now, the challenge is accommodating large crowds in our downtown area. Parking has become an issue in the downtown area, particularly when large sections of on-street parking within the festival area are no longer available. We’ve heard from some downtown merchants and longtime festival-goers that as the event has grown, it seems to have lost some of the charm that made it into a successful holiday shopping experience. Some downtown merchants feel the festival does not benefit their business and have elected to remain closed the evenings of the Victorian Christmas Festival.
The biggest challenge we face is that the hugely popular event has transitioned from one that was more locally driven, benefiting our downtown merchants and our local economy to one that is more tourism-focused, bringing in large regional crowds that provide economic advantages in other ways. Visitors to our area fill our hotels, eat in our restaurants and, in many cases, return to downtown after the festival to shop. Looking to the future, we must adequately plan for an event that continues to benefit our local economy and our downtown merchants.
Celebrating 32 Years
With a clear idea of how the event has evolved over the years, we’d now like your thoughts as to how the Victorian Christmas Festival can be improved so that we continue meeting the needs of our community and our downtown merchants. Take a few moments and reflect on how the event has grown, the tremendous crowds we welcome to downtown, and your own personal goals for the Victorian Christmas Festival. Where can we improve so that the event continues to be meaningful and enjoyable for all? The attached brief survey will help us as we chart the course for this event’s future. We would like to receive your input by March 7, 2017.
Using input from all survey participants, the Victorian Christmas Festival committee and City of Thomasville staff will formulate recommendations for implementation to ensure that this year and all future events continue to be both enjoyable and meaningful to our merchants and participants. Following the review of this survey, a roundtable discussion will be held by the committee to further discuss the Victorian Christmas Festival. Following the review with the committee, we will be sharing survey results and recommendations for improvement with all participants to further provide a plan for the 32nd Victorian Christmas Festival.
Thank you again for being a part of downtown Thomasville and for providing your thoughts on how we can shape the future of the Victorian Christmas Festival. Our goal is to continue to provide an award-winning family event for our community that also benefits our local merchants. We appreciate your input.
City of Thomasville Main Street & Tourism