Eleven years ago, Karen Coppola led a small and shivering holiday parade as a major blizzard swirled through the streets of Johnstown.
“There were icicles coming off my eyelashes,” she said. “It was miserable.”
That was the inaugural year of Johnstown’s Holiday Parade. Not a whole lot of people came out to see the snow-covered floats and bundled-up marching band. But much to Coppola’s surprise, a decade later, the event is something of a local institution.
“I didn’t think people would come back after that blizzard,” she said. “It was pretty bad.”
She made a slight adjustment in scheduling, moving the parade up from early December to the third Friday in November, and it just took off. Last year, there were well more than a thousand people in attendance, which she hopes to exceed this year.
She said vendors will begin setting up in Sir William Johnson Park to sell food and mittens and other locally made goods at 1 p.m. Friday. The shopping in the park started a few years ago when the parade spilled over into other events.
Then at 7 p.m., the actual parade will start.
Over the years, there have been various themes. Last year was “Magic and Myths.” This year, she broadened it to “Whatever You Like About Christmas.”
She couldn’t say early in the week exactly how many floats and marchers will be in the parade but said the procession will include at least one school marching band and various Boy and Girl Scout troops. In all, she said, the parade will take three hours to wind its way through the city and will distribute 5,000 bags of candy to children along the way.
Those few hours are a lot of work for Coppola. The event started as a way to raise money for the local school music program, but the Johnstown school district bailed out after a few years. At that point, Coppola and her husband, Mickey, decided to just do the event themselves.
“The money we make selling hot drinks goes right back into the parade,” she said.
She puts a few solid months of planning into the parade, and Mickey hires a few employees from his construction company to build floats in the weeks before.
It’s a labor of love for Coppola, one borne out of her own childhood memory. She grew up in Schenectady, going to that city’s holiday parade each year.
“That’s one of my best memories,” she said. “I want to give kids in Johnstown those memories. There’s not much to do in Johnstown otherwise.”
The parade this year, she said, will draw floats from Schoharie, Montgomery and Schenectady counties as well as her own Fulton County.
It will begin on Madison Avenue, running along South Melcher Street and onto Main Street and ending at Chase Street.
Coppola asked that onlookers consider donating to the parade so it can continue next year.
The Daily Gazette is a corporate sponsor of the event.