Viewing tips for Saturday’s Gazette Holiday Parade

Largest evening holiday parade in Northeast in its 49th year
The intersection of Jay and State streets is a prime viewing spot, as seen at last year’s parade.
The intersection of Jay and State streets is a prime viewing spot, as seen at last year’s parade.

Categories: Life & Arts, News, Schenectady County

Take your shot — and find your spot — for Saturday’s annual Daily Gazette Holiday Parade.

When this year’s edition of the yuletide classic steps off Saturday at 5 p.m. near Schenectady County Community College, people will find places to watch the musicians and other marchers pass on by.

Places will fill quickly — some parade fans like to be in the center of the action — and that means the center of State Street will be crowded.

Thousands are expected at the march, known this year as the “Parade of Lights: 125 Years of Schenectady.” The event will commemorate the 125th anniversary of the General Electric Co. in the city.

The parade, often described as the largest evening holiday parade in the Northeast, will feature marching bands, kids in holiday costumes, firefighters and dancers.

The review stand will be located near Proctors, Schenectady’s famous theater, and nearby restaurants such as Aperitivo, Johnny’s and Bomber’s Burrito Bar expect pre-parade should have good crowds.

“It’s crazy, it’s so much fun,” said Suzy Wenskoski, Aperitivo’s general manager. “It almost reminds me of SummerNight a little bit because obviously you’re going to have your families and stuff like that but there’s also a growing number of young  professionals and kind of like a younger age group. It’s filled, there’s energy, it’s great.”

Fridays and Saturdays generally means good crowds at Aperitivo. The parade will put more people on State Street and more people in the restaurant during mid-afternoon.

“People will be coming in to have a drink, they’ll be coming in in larger parties to have a pizza or a snack or something,” Wenskoski said. “It’s definitely a busier night than usual.”

Wenskoski hopes to find more customers on State Street. Aperitivo staffers plan to sell hot chocolate before and during the parade.

While people in the center of downtown will meet and mingle in great numbers, they will have an advantage once Santa closes the show. They will be able to find great spots at the bar or seats at a table.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Wenskoski said.

There are other options. The corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard is a large intersection, and people can find spots. Under the railroad bridge — and away from some lights, will give people another parade perspective.

People who want to avoid deep lines of spectators have other options. Mark Eagan, chief executive officer of the Capital District Chamber, said people can find great vantage points at the parade’s starting point, near the Schenectady end of the Western Gateway Bridge.

Construction is ongoing on lower State Street, and that may keep some people away from spots around the parade route’s first couple blocks. But if there are fewer people in those areas, the spots of pavement may represent bargain spots for holiday fans.

Once the parade clears the 300 and 400 blocks of State Street, Lafayette Street is the next target. Eagan said State and Lafayette and the first few blocks of Lafayette will not be chock full of people.

“Some people want to be in the hustle and bustle,” Eagan said. “And we have near the viewing stand, we have it narrated, people talking about it. If you’re not in the 400 block you don’t hear that. Some want all of that , they don’t mind the crowd, that’s part of the excitement. Some people will be arriving at 3 o’clock and they’ll bring their lawn chairs.”

There are no real trips for getting out of town quickly, once Santa Claus has made his final waves.

“People are usually in a pretty good mood,” Eagan said. “Even with the traffic, I don’t think there’s ever been a big issue.”

Parade tips and facts

The holiday season arrives Saturday in the Capital Region.

When the 49th edition of The Daily Gazette Holiday Parade steps off at 5 p.m., people will hear marching bands and see Santa Claus.

Here are a few tips and facts to make the experience an excellent one:

— Thinking about glow stick necklaces or bracelets for the kids? They’re often on sale at convenience and dollar stores — so buy in advance instead of paying a few bucks at a street vendor’s cart.

— November weather can be tricky — unseasonably warm some years or winter-like chilly in others.

Weather forecasters will determine whether windbreakers or ski jackets will be the top fashion choices.

— In some years, the parade has been decorated by real snowflakes.

— The Santa’s house float — the traditional rolling decoration from The Daily Gazette — spends the winter, spring and summer covered by a blue tarp in back of the newspaper’s press building.

— In 1969 — the modern parade’s first year — The Banana Splits were the big stars. The Splits, actors in animal costumes, were then a TV sensation with young children.

— Recent parade themes have included Hollywood and cartoons. In 2011, the Flintstones, Charlie Brown and company, the miserable Grinch from Dr. Seuss and furious flyers from the Angry Birds video game all made appearances. Scooby-Doo, the Great Dane ghost detective from television and films, was the 2011 grand marshal.

— This year’s event salutes the General Electric Co. — “The Holiday Parade of Lights: 125 Years of Schenectady” will put more lights on floats and people on State Street. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said he wants as many lights in the parade as possible — so people can bring flashlights and maybe some battery-powered candles to light the sidewalks.

— During the parade’s early years, the former Carl Co. department store sponsored the Santa Claus float. Santa would wave and laugh with people in downtown, then make appearances — at the Carl Co. — until Christmas Eve.

Santa always signals the end of the parade, a tradition that holiday parade experts say probably started at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. After big balloons such as Underdog and

Bullwinkle floated by, Santa brought up the flank to great applause.

— The Schenectady parade had its own giant balloon, in 2002. That year, a 40-foot tall Alvin the Chipmunk balloon kicked off the 7 p.m. parade.

Alvin and his brothers, Theodore and Simon, had enjoyed cartoon success on TV, in the movies and on the radio. The team’s high-pitched “The Chipmunk Song” is heard every holiday season.”

On parade night, the Alvin balloon dipped under the State Street railroad bridge and emerged on the other side with a smudge of dirt on its nose.

— In 2007, a 50-foot Simon the Chipmunk balloon impressed the crowd. Fans knew Simon as the brainy, bespectacled smarter brother to Alvin and Theodore.

— In 2007, the parade made one of its biggest changes: The date moved from Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — to mid-November. The start time became 5 p.m., instead of 7 p.m., a move designed to make the parade more fun for younger children. The weekend before Thanksgiving also helped people who generally travel outside the area for turkey day gatherings.

* During the 1940s, Schenectady’s Union-Fern store chain sponsored a daytime Christmas parade in downtown. The 1948 balloon featured 35 giant balloons, including a 40-foot hippopotamus, 60-foot-long Chinese dragon, a giant cat, a 30-foot dachshund and other fairyland favorites. Santa Claus was also one of the stars, but in those days, he kicked off the parade.

Street closings, parking spots

Several downtown streets will close for Saturday’s annual Gazette Holiday Parade.

Blockades will go up between 3 and 4 p.m., according to Schenectady police.

On the list are:

  • State Street (Nott Terrace to Broadway), 3 p.m.
  • State Street (Broadway to the end of Western Gateway Bridge on the Scotia side), 4 p.m.
  • Western Gateway Bridge (closed in both directions), 4 p.m.
  • Erie Boulevard (State Street to Liberty Street), 4 p.m.
  • Broadway (Liberty Street to Hamilton Street), 4 p.m.
  • Lafayette Street (Liberty Street to State Street), 4 p.m.
  • Clinton Street (Smith to State Street), 4 p.m.
  • Interstate 890, Washington Avenue exits will close (4C, westbound, Rice Road eastbound), 4 p.m.
  • Church Street (Argyle Place to Liberty Street), 4 p.m.

For spectators driving into downtown, free public parking will be available at:

  • Broadway garage
  • Broadway surface lot
  • Broadway and Franklin Street
  • Amtrak lot (Erie Boulevard and Liberty Street)
  • Erie Boulevard and Liberty Street North
  • City lot, (located between Liberty and Franklin Streets)

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