With the homestretch of 2020 in sight, the Lighted Holiday Parade – an annual Owatonna tradition that takes place the Thursday after Thanksgiving – is the latest event to be canceled.
In a recent Tuesday Talk, the weekly newsletter sent out by the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, it was briefly stated that the parade, which typically brings in 70-plus floats and hundreds of people to the downtown area, would be postponed until 2021. The newsletter cited social distancing requirements for COVID-19 as the catalyst for the decision.
“Up until just a few weeks ago we were planning to move forward,” said Shirley Schultz, MainStreet director for the Chamber.
“Then the discussion with the crowd size and how keeping people socially six-feet apart was next to impossible came into play, and it really came down to a safety issue that the Chamber really thought we should reconsider.”
In 2019, thousands of people filled the streets of downtown Owatonna to watch one of the biggest parades in recent years with 73 floats decked out in holiday lights and cheer. Because of the continually growing participation in the parade, Schultz said the Chamber was originally planning on giving out additional trophies this year to participants following the traditional lighting of Central Park and performance by the Owatonna High School Carolers.
“It is such a heartbreak for everybody not to do that this year – I know the community would love to have that celebration considering winter is coming and all we’ve had to deal with during COVID-19,” Schultz said. “But we’ve made it this far, and we will have just a fabulous parade next year and the people will really be ready.”
Though there won’t be a parade, she said Central Park will still be lit up for the holidays with a tentative schedule of flipping the switch on the Thursday following Thanksgiving – just as it has been done for years following the parade. Schultz said she is also in the process of discussing a potential window-display competition with downtown businesses and property owners and that more information will be announced shortly.
Among those disappointed in the community is Mayor Tom Kuntz, who said the parade always served as a perfect kickoff to the holiday season in Owatonna. Though he acknowledges the disappointment the community is feeling over the loss of their last major public event, he reminds Owatonna residents that while the parade is canceled – shopping locally is not.
“The parade really helped our downtown businesses as shopping local was one of the themes, so please make sure you use the Owatonna stores as your first stop before you go elsewhere,” Kuntz said. “Especially during this time when all the stores and restaurants are struggling due to the virus. I think shopping locally is even more important today than it was a year ago.”
Over recent years, the parade has also served as a public awareness event to solicit donations for the holiday lights in Central Park. In 2019, the Owatonna Business Partnership used funds collected to purchase 100 new sets of lights for the park. In addition, a separate donation had been used to purchase two snowflake lights that were added to the iconic Central Park fountain.