WHEELING - All year long thousands of Ohio Valley residents have looked forward to this Friday night when the 27th annual Perkins Family Restaurant & Bakery Fantasy in Lights Parade lights up the city and leads Santa into downtown Wheeling in celebration of the upcoming holiday season.
Starting at 6:30 p.m. the parade will feature 36 lighted professional and locally made floats and 17 local school marching bands that will travel north on Market Street, turn onto 10th Street and then down Main Street. Parade Chairman Bill Bryson said the event began 27 years ago to complement Oglebay's Winter Festival of Lights. He said the parade has grown every year since its beginning as more members of the community get involved.
"When we started we encouraged the floats to be lighted and we were able to add to the whole 'city of lights' idea in Wheeling. It was something different and nobody else was doing it," Bryson said. "People over the years have come to expect a great parade. The response from participants over the years have been phenomenal. We try to make it the best parade possible and we have an obligation to those who are watching to put on a first class event."
Carmen Zimmerman, left, and Diane Miller attach a board to Peterson Rehabilitation Center’s “Island of Misfit Toys” float in anticipation of the Perkins Family Restaurant & Bakery Fantasy in Lights Parade.
Children in the crowd will be especially happy this year to watch many of their favorite cartoon characters come to life in the parade. The characters are part of an effort from parade organizers to bring in more attractions and entertainment for children.
"This year we have more for the kids than every before," Bryson said.
Children and families shouldn't expect candy to be thrown into the crowd this year, however, so people planning on bringing candy bags should leave them at home. All floats and entries are prohibited from throwing out candy, pamphlets or any handouts this year onto the street. Bryson cited safety reasons for the restriction saying that children in the past have run out into the street and crawled under moving floats to grab pieces of candy.
"The kids always look forward to the candy in the parade, but there are serious safety concerns," Bryson said. "We've asked people not to throw out candy, because kids will run out into the street and under floats. We can't ignore it, somebody is going to get hurt. Our goals is to keep the kids safe."
Before the parade starts, two barbershop quartets will serenade the audience on Market Street. Also, the HAM Radio operators will provide communications around the parade route and the Wheeling Police Department, Wheeling Operations Supervisor Tim Birch, the Wheeling Fire Department and the Public Works Department will help ensure the parade proceeds safely through the city. Ohio Valley residents will also be excited to see hometown favorite Charles "Moondog" Waldrum ride in the parade as one of the grand marshals.
Bryson also suggested parade entries and members of the crowd should plan on arriving well before the start of the parade at 6:30 p.m. to find a parking space. Available parking includes the 10th Street Parking Garage, Center Wheeling Parking Garage on Chapline Street and the Intermodal parking garage next to WesBanco Arena.
For those who are hungry before the parade, the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival will be selling homemade Italian sausage sandwiches, hot chocolate, hot dogs, baked goods and soda at the Italian Festival office at 1200 Market St. from 5 p.m. until after the parade.
"I think people enjoy it and I think they look forward to it. There's hardly anything left at the end of the night," said Kim Smith, festival coordinator "It's also nice to come in and get warm since it's going to be a really cold night. The board members are doing all the cooking and they seem to really have a lot of fun doing it."
Prior to the parade, WesBanco Arena will be holding its annual Winterfest-Christmas in November on Friday that will continue through Sunday at the arena. The traditional Christmas in November craft show will showcase 135 vendors selling items such as pottery, woodworking, personalized Christmas bulbs and fully decorated trees from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday in the lobby, concourse and the arena.