Warrenton town officials have begun planning the annual events that take place every year in the weeks before Christmas. Although modified to better mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, the town calendar this year could still include popular events like a parade and Gumdrop Square. More details about the events were discussed Tuesday at a town council work session. The council must vote on whether to move ahead with the parade and Gumdrop Square plans.
A “reverse” Christmas parade has been suggested for Warrenton’s Main Street, from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4. Instead of processing down Main Street, about 30 floats would be parked in one lane on the street and vehicles would be able to file past the floats in the opposite lane. If more floats are expected, the lineup could be extended east to Clay Street to accommodate more trailers.
Mayor Carter Nevill wondered at Tuesday’s work session if the parade might be better suited to Alexandria Pike, to forestall residents from walking down Main Street past the floats rather than driving past them. He pointed out that the idea of the “reverse” parade was to prevent large crowds from gathering.
Nevill said that although he was pleased at the idea of a Christmas parade, it might be better for people to view the floats as they drive up Alexandria Pike, concluding at the courthouse and then continuing onto Main Street for shopping or dining.
Sean Polster, who is spearheading the parade plan, and town staff will continue to refine the proposal.
Gumdrop Square, a popular annual event for kids to meet Santa Claus and shop for presents, could also go ahead in a modified form. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on four Saturdays before Christmas – Nov. 28, Dec. 5, Dec. 12 and Dec. 19 – Santa would be at the Gloria Faye Dingus Center for the Arts at 92 Main St. Instead of a single “Santa’s Secret Shop” location, several businesses in Old Town Warrenton would set aside areas within their stores for children to shop.
Officials also hope that Santa can walk the sidewalks and visit retail shops on “Shop Small Saturday,” Nov. 28.
Town Councilman Brett Hamby raised COVID-19 safety concerns. “COVID isn’t mentioned in this proposal at all,” he said. He said he wanted to be sure that the events wouldn’t draw large crowds to Warrenton at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging.
Councilwoman Heather Sutphin seconded Hamby’s concerns, suggesting that perhaps parents could make an appointment for their children to see Santa. She stressed that she is looking forward to seeing festive holiday decorations and events, “I am looking forward to some normalcy,” but wanted to be sure safeguards are put in place to protect residents from the spread of the virus.
Town Manager Brandie Schaeffer suggested that perhaps families could come by Gumdrop Square to pick up a ticket, then come back when it was their turn to see Santa.
In addition to the regular closures of Main Street to vehicle traffic each Friday and Saturday evening, a memo from Town Clerk Elizabeth Gillie recommended closing parking spaces on Main Street from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each Saturday beginning Nov. 28. (Street parking already being used for outdoor restaurant seating would not be affected.)
The recommendation came after a survey of 18 businesses in Old Town Warrenton that found majority support for using Main Street parking spaces for entertainment in an effort to draw more pedestrians to the area. The memo also recommended using the parking spaces in front of Warrenton Presbyterian Church for farmers’ market vendors, although there is insufficient space for all 14 interested vendors to participate. Parking in front of the post office would remain open.