Covid didn’t kill Christmas

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The 2020 Christmas Festival was only in the red $28,744.78, a surprisingly low number in light of all the obstacles encountered during the year. Jill Leo, Director of Promotions & Events for the Natchitoches Historic District Business Association (HDBA), and finance director Lee Waskom presented the Christmas Festival financials at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 20.

This article published in the Thursday, April 22, 2021, print edition

Considering an abbreviated list of activities, Covid, weather events and not knowing how, or if, a festival would happen, a loss of $28,000 is more than acceptable. It wasn’t the worst year for the festival financially. In 2016, a deluge on Festival day completely shut everything down at the last minute. Costs associated with entertainment, the parade and activities put the festival in the red approximately $60,000.

Leo and Waskom agreed that was worse than 2020 when they had at least a small window of time to plan and minimize losses. Leo said they did not get final approval for a festival “in some form” until two weeks before festival day.

(click the items below to review the entire budget)

The HDBA released the following statement along with the financials: “2020 definitely presented a list of challenges for the Christmas Festival Season, but overall the Festival Committee was pleased with the outcome. Through consistent communication with the Office of State Fire Marshal and the support of local representatives, an agreement was reached to proceed with pulling off an abbreviated version of the Festival for 2020. While the Festival of Lights Parade and many of the children’s activities were cancelled, the traditions of Christmas lights, spectacular fireworks displays, shopping and delicious food were still present. Smaller events like Cookies with Santa were carried out with COVID precautions and were a highlight during the season.

With limited ticket sales, tickets for each weekend sold out in advance. The Festival Committee utilized new technology this year that enabled attendees to purchase tickets online and created a safe and cashless environment for the booth workers. The new system proved to be a great success for the Festival and the Committee is considering ways to continue its use moving forward.”

Waskom said the State Fire Marshall’s office was very cooperative in working with the HDBA to establish guidelines that would allow a festival to happen. Armbands allowed a limited number of people on the riverbank as set by the Fire Marshall. Attendees said an up side of the restrictions was less crowding, a pleasant alternative to standing room only. Leo said things like entertainment had to be booked at the last minute because if they’d made deposits on bands and entertainment beforehand and there had been no festival, that money would have been lost like in 2016.

As luck would have it, armbands that were ordered in advance did not arrive due to a production problem.Leo had to make a last minute trip to purchase alternative armbands.

There were fewer vendors on the riverbank that is normally filled with 15-17 trailers selling everything from funnel cakes to candied apples and lemonade. This year there were four every weekend with four additional ones on Front Street festival day for attendees who could not access the riverbank. Leo said the festival attracted people who had never been. She said part of the reason was that people were ready to have something to do after almost a year of isolation.

Some of the adjustments made to accommodate social distancing were winners. Leo said Cookies with Santa was a highlight. “Having individual tables where family units were together and having Santa visit them was a huge success. This is something we’re looking at keeping.”

Fireworks also held their own. Cost was $115,000 for the entire season.

Front Street business owners also reaped the rewards of the festival through the increase of foot traffic into their business. If there had been no festival at all, it could have been fatal for those businesses.

The festival account ends the year with $172,748.70 in reserves. Waskom said those reserves are a comfort. “You can make decisions without worrying about breaking the bank,” he said. The 2020 festival generated $413,390 in revenue compared to $808,178 in 2018. Expenses included the fireworks, entertainment, supplies, port-a-potties, tent rental, labor, security, EMS service and bathroom maintenance among other things to the tune of $442,135.

“The festival is the livelihood of our town,” Leo said. Looking forward to this year’s festival she said the committee still has a few hurdles to overcome, but they are optimistic