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New time set for Christmas parade

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By John Barnhart

The hot, humid days of mid-July don't put most people in a Christmas frame of mind. Bedford Main Street, however, has been thinking about the year-end holiday and a note at the end of its 2008 calendar of events on its Web site, indicates that the time of Bedford's annual Christmas parade has been moved to 7 p.m.

Linda Exley, Bedford Main Street's director, said that there has been a conflict between the parade, which starts at 11 a.m. and a foot race, which starts at 10 a.m.

"The police have to take care of the foot race,"Exley said.

Exley said that two events so close together that require police help creates problems getting the parade started on time.

"We have a lack of help, Exley added. "We try to start it at 11 promptly. It's just a time when we need help and we don't have help."

Exley said that the plan is to have the tree lighting at 6 p.m. with the parade to follow. Bedford Main Street will also be trying to encourage merchants to stay open and make it a big Saturday night.

"We are a very small group trying to pull this off," she said.

Jim Messier owns Arthur's Jewelry, located on North Bridge Street, part of the parade route. He recalls the last time the Christmas parade was held at 7 p.m. That was in 1986.

"It was not good," Messier commented.

"It was really small, it was really cold," he added.

Moving the parade time means that Messier will have to make a choice. He's involved in the Smith Mountain Lake Flotilla of Toys, which will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 6, the same time as the Christmas parade. He suspects that this conflict, along with the fact that Lynchburg's Christmas parade is also at 7 p.m. on the same night, will reduce the number of both spectators and participants.

Messier doesn't think it will make sense for merchants to stay open late on parade day. He said that any of his customers who aren't interested in either the foot race or the parade don't come in because of these. Some people, who are there for the parade, come into the store to keep warm while they are waiting, but clear out.

"I have a strong preference for daytime," said Peter Viemeister, who owns Hamilton's on West Main Street.

Viemeister said that a parade is a great chance for people to see what a community is made of and holding a parade after dark distracts from that.

He noted that there may be a good reason for holding the parade at night, but he said that that means it will be colder. He predicted that will reduce participation and spectators.

Hamilton's has been on the parade route in the past and Viemeister said that he doesn't mind people standing on his porch to watch the event. However, he said that it doesn't bring business in. He sees the parade as something that brings pride to Bedford.

"It's an annual ritual of Bedford life," Viemeister commented.

"I grew up with Christmas parades at night," said Sergei Troubetzkoy, the area's director of tourism and a Richmond native.

Troubetzkoy said that a nighttime parade is more magical with floats illuminated ? there's more character to them, more of a Christmas feeling.

"I was glad to see it moved," he concluded, adding that he was not part of that decision.

Bedford's American Legion post has lined up dignitaries, local and state. Nick Soukhanov, the post's commander feels like the decision, coming when it did, pulled the rug out from under them.

Local dignitaries can be lined up quickly, but getting people like the Commonwealth's attorney general and Miss Virginia takes advance notice. He began contacting people in May, then learned two weeks ago that the parade time had been changed.

The night parade poses other problems. One is that the post rounds up 10 cars for dignitaries and local dealerships provide them. In the past, the would get the cars at 9:30 a.m. and have them back by noon. Now, they would have to be able to make some arrangement with the dealership for somebody to take the cars back, or hold them until the next day.

Soukhanov wonders how many high school youth will be involved. He notes that there is a football game the night before and he bets that a lot will have other activities that they would rather do that Saturday night.

Whether the parade is held day or night, security won't be an issue according to Bedford Police Chief Jim Day.

"We have to use everybody we have," Day said, describing the manpower demands of dealing with the foot race and the parade in the morning.

This costs overtime, but Day said that the department knows it's coming and have that covered in the budget.

"We'll deal with either time that comes up," he said.

Day does not anticipate a night parade requiring extra security. The downtown is well illuminated and a Christmas parade crowd is not a troublesome group. Traffic may be less of an issue because they won't have to deal with the foot race and parade overlapping.

"It's easier to deal with if events are not back to back," Day said.