Holiday event at Town Center disappoints after organizer, city fail to advertise changes

Virginia Beach’s popular holiday parade at Town Center became a source of ridicule and anger this weekend after organizers surprised the crowd with a smaller event and, according to a city spokesman, failed to publicize the changes.

Dozens of spectators vented about this year’s Light Up the Town event within hours on the Facebook pages for Town Center and event organizer BeachStreetUSA. The comments were removed Monday, although portion of the negative remarks — 38 — were copied by Southside Daily before their removal.

City spokesman Marc Davis said by email Monday in response to questions about the complaints that the city and its contracted organizer for the event, BeachStreetUSA, “agreed to eliminate the parade” this year because it had become smaller the past two years. The plan was instead to focus on entertainment in the Town Center plaza.

“Santa did come through the streets to get to the plaza, but it was never intended to be a parade,” he wrote.

Davis continued:

Unfortunately, the organizer did not communicate this change very well in the advertising or on social media. The event was intentionally not advertised as a parade, but many people, understandably, expected a parade anyway because there had been a parade in the past. That should not have happened. We know we let down some people because of our poor communications. We’ll do better.

A description of the event on BeachStreetUSA’s website said Santa Claus would light a giant Christmas tree at the end of a “lively procession with Santa’s elves, costumed characters, a band, holiday train, stilt walker, and more.”

Attendees reported seeing firetrucks, a marching band, Olaf, Santa, Elmo and a few other pieces to the procession, but little else.

Jan Kern, who traveled from Wisconsin to be with family in Virginia for Thanksgiving, wrote on Facebook that she began her trip early so she could be at the parade again. She found it to be a fun, happy experience in past years, she wrote.

“NOT THIS YEAR!!!,” she wrote.

She added that it could not have been more disappointing if “the grinch himself” had planned it.

Many of the comments followed a posting on the page that called the event a great success.

“A great success according to who?!,” Ashley Sanchez asked.

Her 3-year-old asked when they got home if they were still going to see the parade, she wrote. What they saw was over in less than 20 minutes.

The length of the event was not the only complaint. Other unhappy comments referred to the lack of community entries in the procession, the sight of entertainers putting on and removing their costumes in view of children, and a countdown to the building and Christmas tree lights when the lights were already on.

“We will never come again,” Courtney Crostic Haskins wrote. “I left with my (4-year-old) in tears because it was such a complete and total letdown.”

“I blinked and missed the whole thing,” Herb Myers commented.

Organizers of the event did not respond to requests for comment.

The golden retriever rescue organization SEVA GRREAT was among the regular entries from past years missing this time around. Jane Krom, the rescue’s president, said by email that she had been told organizers were “changing the format this year to more of a ‘production’ vs a parade, and wanted more performers, etc.”

“They had made the decision not to allow ‘marching units’, which SEVA was considered in the past,” Krom added.

Fran Mayo Graninger wrote on Facebook that it took her a month to find out that organizers were not allowing marching units, after her daughter’s Girl Scout troop had marched in the parade in past years.

“It was such a fun thing for the girls,” Graninger wrote. “Shouldn’t a ‘parade’ include members of the community?”

Virginia Beach resident Jaime Popard wrote on Facebook that last year’s event was one of the best yet and that this year’s was the worst. In a follow-up interview over Facebook, she wrote those in charge of Light Up the Town should have more clearly said the parade was either cancelled or drastically scaled back.

“People don’t want false hope,” she wrote. “They will remember that and sadly not return next year.”

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