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San Luis Obispo annual holiday parade cancelled, other activities planned

Downtown SLO
Downtown businesses will still decorate to compete for best display.

After 44 years, the organization Downtown SLO is canceling the city’s annual holiday parade due to COVID-19 concerns. But the group has some other ideas on keeping the holiday spirit alive.

The San Luis Obispo annual holiday parade usually attracts up to 10,000 people downtown, but this year Downtown SLO knew a crowd that size would be too risky during a pandemic.

“This would have been the 45th anniversary of our holiday parade," Downtown SLO CEO Bettina Swigger said. "So it’s really a sad day that we are not able to do this, but we couldn’t figure out a way to do it safely.”

Swigger said although the parade isn’t happening, the holiday spirit will be alive and well.

“We are instead going to put our energy toward activating the downtown," Swigger said. "So really focusing on promoting the local businesses, and less on the activities that our business is probably known for.”

Swigger said while the nonprofit will create a 21-foot holiday tree on display at Mission Plaza, as is tradition, she isn't sure if they’ll be able to bring in the classic carousel ride. But the red Santa house, along with his elves, will be there.

But how pictures with Santa will work, the organization is still figuring out.

“How does Santa say ‘ho ho ho’ without you know, passing on a virus?” Swigger said.

A big focus will be on lighting up downtown with a decorative window display competition and making the parklets feel like you’re in a winter wonderland.  But the pandemic has forced some businesses to move out of downtown, leaving vacant and empty buildings.

“We are looking to partner with some of the property owners," Swigger said. "[To] make sure any spaces that are vacant during the holiday season will be activated and lively, and bright.”

Some businesses like Michael's Optical are already getting festive with a display of pumpkins and leaves celebrating the first day of fall. Manager Steve Nutt said the store’s holiday display has won the annual competition in the past.

"It’s been a couple of years [since they won] because we have a lot of talented people that are involved with downtown and their businesses," Nutt said. "It is a lot of fun to see what everyone comes up with.” 

Swigger said now more than ever, it’s important to shop local, and that families will still be able to get into the holiday spirit with a stroll through downtown.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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