Festival of Lights fills void left by Dade City Christmas Parade cancellation
By Kyle LoJacono
ZEPHYRHILLS — The Dade City Christmas Parade has been an annual tradition for 26 years — but not this year.
“Our president (Joey Wubbena) looked at weather reports and decided it was in the best interest of the city to cancel the parade,” said Nita Beckwith, executive director of the Dade City Chamber of Commerce.
The parade was scheduled for Dec. 4, but was canceled at 11 a.m. the day before with no makeup date.
However, Dade City’s loss was Zephyrhills gain. Many of the floats entered in the Dade City parade moved to the Dec. 5 Christmas parade in Zephyrhills, which was part of the Festival of Lights presented by Main Street Zephyrhills.
“Our goal is to not turn anyone away,” said Brenda Welcher, Main Street’s executive director. “We can’t promise people anything, but we try to find space in the parade if we can. Our mission is to bring people to our historic downtown area, so we wanted as many people to attend as possible.”
Welcher noted that registration for the Zephyrhills parade officially ended Nov. 25, but the organization obviously overlooked that deadline to accommodate entries in the canceled Dade City parade. She said four entries from Dade City entered the Zephyrhills parade.
“The impact on Zephyrhills is great,” Welcher continued. “It allows people to get into the holiday spirit, enjoy our city and help the economy of the area.”
While parade participants could simply move to the neighboring city’s parade, restaurant owners in Dade City were not so lucky.
“All the restaurants do special things for the parade and it’s just too bad the parade was canceled,” said Melanie Yates, owner of Garden Café in Dade City.
“I’m sure the chamber did what they thought was right, but I wish they had waited a little longer to cancel. The parade really helps business each year. We do about three times the business of a normal day during the parade,” she said.
Yates, of Dade City, is a member of the chamber and stressed she was not being critical of canceling the parade. She said she only thought it was canceled too early and should have had a backup date.
“We are right along the parade’s route, and we had people schedule reservations for a long time,” Yates said. “Now those people are all mad at us. It’s too bad that in this economy an event that brings so many people to our city was canceled.”
Beckwith said 5,000 to 7,000 people come to watch the Dade City parade each year.
Yates said the café had planned to have special booths with “to-go” items so people could get food while watching the parade. The café also planned to have extra staff to handle the increased number of customers.
“We had to think of the safety of the people involved,” Beckwith said. “We needed the time to let everyone know it would be canceled due to dangerous weather, so we made the decision early in the day…Moving the parade wasn’t an option because we couldn’t close the streets for another night.”
Beckwith said she did not think future parades would have backup dates, but said the chamber’s council would discuss the issue before next year.
“I really hope they have a backup date next year,” Yates said. “Otherwise people might not show up in large numbers like they have in the past. It’s a great tradition and we need to make sure it happens each year.”