Christmas on MacArthur 2012
The Best One Ever
by Charles McGuigan
This year’s Christmas on MacArthur was the best ever. More than a thousand people attended to watch a first-class parade, visit with Bellevue’s own Santa Claus, aka Joe Stankus of Classic Touch Cleaning, meet the owners of the shops and restaurants in the neighborhood, and get a head start on holiday shopping, purchasing items from the more than 50 vendors who lined MacArthur Avenue. Generosity poured forth in an endless stream of Toys for Tots and U.S. Marines of the 4th Division filled a troop transport with unwrapped gifts for kids that was headed for Christmas morning.
Always held the second Saturday in December from noon to four, the weather this year was ideal—sunny and mild with just a crisp to the air.
The following people met throughout the year to make this past year’s Christmas on MacArthur possible: Amy, Robert and Josh of the mill on MacArthur; Joe of Classic Touch Cleaning; Jimmy of Dot’s Back Inn; Rich of Decatur’s Garage; Mike Labelle of Restoration Carpentry; Chris, Cecelia and Heike of Rich’s Stitches; Jerry of Stir Crazy; Jimmy of Zorba’s; Charles of North of the James magazine; Tim of The Cottage Gardener; Chris and Helen of 4025 Yoga; Bob of Once Upon A Vine; Mary Beth of RVA Grooming Studio; Larry treasurer of the Bellevue Merchants Association; Lee of Main Stage Productions, who furnished a 20 by 30 foot stage; and, of course, Principal David Hudson of Holton Elementary School, the hardest working school administrator in the Richmond area.
Every one of these business owners pumped heart and soul into this event, and it all began with an endless procession of meetings. Even now, business owners in Bellevue are busy planning next year’s event. And it really takes that much time to pull it all together.
Meetings are held at Rich’s Stitches or Stir Crazy and discussions move around the room until the event begins to solidify and then each business owner takes on a number of tasks. This year, for instance, Amy of the Mill worked with Chris Egghart on coordinating the vendors, while her husband, Robert Huddleston, designed the posters and flyers advertising the event.
Getting toward November, Chris and Cecilia Rich turned their business into a veritable War Room with detailed maps of the 4000 block of MacArthur Avenue. Post-its designated individual vendors and their placement on the street. Just days before the big event they began placing participants of the parade in the order they would march. Always there, it seems to me, was Mike LaBelle, who owns Restoration Carpentry. And at Christmas on MacArthur you could see Chris and Cecilia with walkie-talkies in hand coordinating the parade with about a dozen volunteers. It went off as flawlessly as Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
Joe Stankus, our very own Santa Claus with a true full beard, rode in this year’s parade in style—a vintage Rolls Royce. During the course of the day on MacArthur he saw hundreds of kids and before the parade started he had seen more than a hundred kids at another event. This community-minded owner of Classic Touch Cleaning plays Santa to thousands of kids during every holiday season and has been doing so for years.
Several years ago, Joe told me this: “I play Santa in a lot of inner-city schools. So far this year I’ve done Birmingham, Alabama; Asheville, North Carolina; and Charleston, West Virginia.” And he has also played Santa Claus in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. He remembered that regardless what the prevailing religion of the country, the kids believed in Saint Nick. “I was in Bangkok, it was 80 percent Buddhist and they spoke no English,” said Joe. “In Maylasia it’s 100 percent Muslim and no English. But when the kids would come up their eyes would light up and they would call me Father Christmas.”
He also told a story that happened down in Emporia not long ago. He was visiting a school for autism there and the parents of one of the little girls told him that their daughter would never approach him. But, lo and behold, when this small girl saw him she scrambled into his lap and looked into his eyes, as Joe’s gloved hand rested on her small shoulder. “Even her grandparents hadn’t held her at that point,” Joe told me, adding that Santa Claus is “the personification of good and how little kids know that, I have no idea.”
Business owners in Bellevue have one thing in common—they all give back to the community, and Christmas on MacArthur is indicative of that. For the past eight years this event has been sponsored by the merchants, along with North of the James and, recently, Holton Elementary School. In the past couple years Christmas on MacArthur has become one of the largest single donors in the Richmond area to the Marine Corps annual Toys for Tots drive.
There’s a thing that Bob Kocher does every spring and summer and fall Friday night that will stay with kids and their parents for a lifetime. He converts the north side of his ample parking lot into an outdoor movie theatre, projecting the images on the side of the Rich’s Stitches building. He always shows kid-friendly, family type films, free of charge. And people come to lay out their blankets or set up their lawn chairs on the asphalt, bringing picnic lunches and snacks and buying treats at Once Upon A Vine or popcorn from Grey Hill Café. And the kids watch and play and the parents socialize and it’s all cordoned off from the rest of the parking lot with yellow tape and orange traffic cones. One night last summer when the clouds had been building through the afternoon into the evening, a gentle rain began falling—no lightning or high winds—just warm rain that dampened the skin and roped the hair and formed puddles on the ground. A lot of us thought the movie would be cancelled, but instead Bob brought out a beach umbrella and placed it over the DVD projector and the film went on. Many migrated to the overhang of Once Upon A Vine and watched the rest of the movie from that comparatively dry spot, but my son Charles ventured into the rain and splashed in puddles and danced and was soon joined by every other kid there and quite a few of the adults. It was a memorable night, though I can’t remember the name of the movie we all watched.
Here’s another story: A few years back eighteen special needs kids from Holton Elementary School had missed out on a field trip to MacArthur Avenue. David Hudson quickly agreed to let these kids have their own field trip a week later. It was a warm day in early June and as the kids toured the neighborhood shops and restaurants they were showered with gifts, food and treats.
Jimmy and his staff at Dot’s Back Inn provide lunch for the kids and their instructors. Shanan Chambers, owner of Northside Grille, who at the time also co-owned We All Scream, served up free ice cream for all the students on the Holton field trip. And Cecilia and Chris of Rich’s Stitches showed the kids how the machinery in their shop works and then presented each child with a customized pencil pouch. Many of those kids, now in the fifth grade, still possess and treasure those gifts. And what’s more, the memory of that day.
There’s an integral link between the businesses here and Holton Elementary School. The mill on MacArthur, for instance, donates 5% of each sale on the fourth Tuesday of every month to the Know Your Veggies Program at Holton. All customers need do is mention the school when they eat at the mill on those Tuesdays.
And Holton has become the soul of Christmas on MacArthur with students, parents and staff participating in the parade. Principal David Hudson gets the word out early about Christmas on MacArthur using the school’s phone tree and setting up Toys for Tots donation boxes in the school’s grand foyer. He also set up two of the seven bikes that were given away at this year’s event.
In the parade itself, Holton had a very, very strong presence with students donning Santa caps, marching along with the school’s choir, band, orchestra and safety patrols.
Other participants in this year’s parade included the Metro Richmond Emerald Society Color Guard & Pipes; Saint Andrew’s Legion Pipes & Drum; Benedictine Pipes & Drum Corp; the 4th Marine Division and a combat Hummer; ACCA clowns, go-carts, tractor, motor patrol and divan; Ring & Dog Rescue float; the Cayuga Tribe and Tribe of the Mighty Waccamaws from the North Richmond Y; Boy Scout Troop 498; Richmond Police Department’s SWAT, EOD, CMT, motorcycles, mounted patrol and K-9 Squad: Virginia State Police; Richmond City Fire Department Engine House #16; CERT Volunteers; deputy director of the city’s department of emergency management; the Clan Colquhoun; a long list of vintage cars and Peter Francisco’s classic pickup truck; the parade’s king and queen; Fireweed Farm Alpacas; the Elves and Santa Claus; and scores of others.
Next year the event will be even bigger. We hope to have local bands playing throughout the day on the main stage. Any local musicians who would like to donate a half-hour set should call me at 218-5265. And it’s never too early to sign up as a participant in the parade or as a vendor of fine arts and crafts. Become part of what has become Northside’s biggest annual event.