When the Minneapolis Downtown Council announced Holidazzle, a “Walt Disney-type parade” to draw shoppers to the city core back in 1992, this newspaper’s editorial board lauded the effort to “put up its dukes to combat suburban holiday themes.”
The parade was called “a giant leap, presenting Minneapolis as a brilliant Emerald City rather than a half-dead downtown.”
Letters to the editor glowed: “The Holidazzle Parade on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis is such a treat. It’s wonderful! Thank you, Downtown Council, for such a lovely gift,” wrote Marty Cass.
This year the council went all “European” on us and scrapped the parade for a “holiday village.” You know what happens when Minnesota tries to do European: beer cheese soup in a pretzel bread bowl. Expensive “grog.” “Bavarian roasted nuts.”
Enter the Grinch.
Here is the first comment on the new event’s own Facebook page: “I think it’s time to shut it down, fire somebody, and try again next year. Hint: Don’t put “2015” stickers on the leftover mugs.”
The critic is referring to the council’s admission that the original name of the event was “Holidazzle Christmas Market,” which was emblazoned on the souvenir mugs. Trying to be inclusive, no doubt, someone decided it should instead be called the “holiday market,” so they put stickers over the original cups.
Cue the “war on Christmas” crowd, but I think it’s just tacky.
The Holidazzle Facebook Page is teeming with anger and disappointment. Customers complain of “paying to shop,” of long lines, congested aisles that are not handicap- or stroller-friendly, confusing exits, “a rickety, questionably safe carousel” and a “cash only” policy combined with broken cash machines.
The newspaper has gotten a handful of letters to the editor, most of them critical.
Has Holidazzle become Holifizzle?
At the same time, some shoppers are so miffed by Macy’s weary holiday display, once a creative and magical must-do under Dayton’s care, that they’ve started a Facebook page demanding the store change the scenery once in a while.
Forget the war on Christmas, how about the apparent war on creative holiday celebrations in downtown Minneapolis?
The response to the village was so hostile, event organizers even apologized late this week on Facebook: “We hope you’ll try us again, as we’re working hard to create a valuable event for everyone who attends,” they wrote.
Steve Cramer, president of the council, said he’s heard the complaints, and some praise.
“We are trying to replace something that is a beloved tradition,” said Cramer, “that’s difficult under the best of circumstances.”
He said that in the early years, the original Holidazzle boosted downtown sales, as people stayed to shop. In recent years, however, visitors watched the parade and fled back to the suburbs.
“There has been some legitimate criticism,” said Cramer. “We’re trying to sort out the things we can change. We are looking for a consistently compelling experience downtown. We know this isn’t for everyone.”
That would include Daymond Dean, who got his kids to go to the Holidazzle parade for the first time last year. “We loved it,” said Dean.
But this year, Dean tried to coax his teen to try the market. His son was not impressed, and said he would rather go to bed early.
“A 13-year-old would rather go to bed early than go to a Christmas market? It just didn’t seem that family-friendly,” said Dean.
Dean went anyway. “I was very disappointed.”
He was miffed, first, by the $6 entrance fee, “paying money to be able to go buy stuff.”
The booth to write letters to Santa was unstaffed and the reindeer were all lying down (“I guess they had a long day”).
“It just seemed disorganized,” Dean said.
Kerry Pricco has brought her family from Chanhassen downtown for the parade “multiple times a year.”
She decided to give the village and market a shot and brought her relatives from out of town to the village and market, maybe 25 people in all. They each paid the entry fee.
“It was a joke,” said Pricco. “We stayed for 15 or 20 minutes. Most of the group went across the street to Brit’s Pub to watch the Wisconsin Badgers game.”
The kids rode the carousel, which Pricco said looked dangerous, and visited Santa’s workshop.
“It was literally a couple of card tables set up and a plastic tub that said U.S. Postal Service on it,” said Pricco. “I was like, come on, you could have put a little effort into it. Someone could have spent 10 minutes throwing some greenery and a bow on it.”
“It was sad,” Pricco said. “It wasn’t the image of Minneapolis we wanted to give to our relatives from out of town. They can do better. We have done better. They can say they will change a few things, but I will never go back.”
Shane Higgins, general manager of Brit’s, said business is better than during the parades.
“I loved the parade and was sad to see it go,” said Higgins. “But I think a lot of people still like it [the village] and had a good experience.”
Dean, who has done event planning, said “the atmosphere just didn’t seem very festive. It looks very haphazard for a city that’s hosting the Super Bowl.”
I spent 20 minutes at the event Thursday night, which turned out to be approximately 20 minutes too long. I hear the food is decent, though too expensive. My ultimate takeaway is feeling like I paid $6 to visit the kiosks at the Mall of America.
In the cold.
Minneapolis has a lot of work to do to bring back memories of a “brilliant Emerald City,” instead of the visage of “a half-dead downtown.”
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin