Every year for the past six, employees at the Bike King in Inver Grove Heights have spent this time of year restoring used bikes for some lucky kids.
The Inver Grove Heights Police Department collects abandoned, unclaimed bikes throughout the year and donates them to the Lions Club, which passes them on to the local bike shop. There, said Bike King owner Kip Meers, they get a tune-up, replacement parts like handlebar grips and cables, and new tires.
The bikes find their new owners with a drawing during the annual Holiday on Main Street celebration, which runs from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 at the Veterans Memorial Community Center.
"It's pretty cool to see their faces light up," said Meers. "It's cool to be able to hand them a bike instead of selling them a bike."
Meers said he usually has about 40 or so to choose from, and so is able to select the best ones. This year, they will give away 15.
"They'll be good-quality bikes," Meers said. "Good used ones."
The Lions Club and other individuals pay for the parts. Meers donates labor, but he downplays his role. "It gives us something to do in the wintertime," he said.
Throughout the drawing, kids can choose from the bikes or a variety of toys. City Council Member Bill Klein said organizers are giving away $2,500 worth of toys this year.
"Almost everyone leaves with some kind of prize," said Mayor George Tourville.
The festive -- and free -- family event also includes arts and crafts, holiday-themed carnival games, crazy hair and face painting, prizes and candy, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Brass Brio, a nontraditional brass band that plays rock, pop and jazz, provides music throughout the afternoon. This year, organizers also added reindeer sleigh rides.
"It's a packed house," Klein said of the event.
Klein, retiring this year after 20 years on the City Council, was one of a few community members instrumental in infusing some community-wide holiday spirit 16 years ago. They started putting up lighting displays -- one that even caused a traffic jam, he recalls fondly -- and organized Holiday on Main Street.
"When I was a kid, the Winter Carnival was a big deal," he said. "We wanted to do something for the kids."
A few years ago, the Parks and Recreation Department added a candy cane hunt in the morning followed by hot beverages and treats. It begins at 10 a.m. at South Valley Park. Two kids who find golden candy canes win a special prize and the opportunity to light the tree that evening with the mayor.
"It's special," Tourville said. "They think it's a great thing."
In recent years, Inver Grove Heights has become well known for its residents' commitment to dazzling light displays. That evening, people can venture out on their own to enjoy the lights, or take a 30-minute Holiday Lights Trolley Tour.
"There are some blocks that are all lit up," Klein said, chuckling at the number of "Griswold houses," a reference to the light-happy character in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
The city was happy to encourage the trend, Klein said, and years ago started giving out certificates for light displays. "I've got some people who've got 10 of them framed in their garage."
Tours start at 6:30 and depart every 40 minutes. Rides are free, but tickets must be secured in advance, and they go fast, Klein said.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.