Downtown comes alive

The best of our community was on display Tuesday night at Historic Fort Steuben.

Steubenville’s annual light-up night attracted residents from all parts of the Tri-State Area. They came to enjoy the atmosphere around the park and to celebrate the start of the Christmas season. They came to appreciate the Nutcracker Village and watch area young people perform. They came to shop at the Advent Market and say hello to their friends and neighbors.

It was, as many in attendance were heard to say, a perfect evening.

“This has become a great success, there’s no doubt about it,” Mayor Domenick Mucci said while waiting for the start of the tree-lighting ceremony. “It’s great to see so many people gathered together.”

When Mucci flipped the switch to light the 30-foot Christmas tree that sits in the fountain area of the park, it marked one of the last high-profile events he will perform as the city’s mayor. He decided not to seek re-election to the post he’s held for the last 25 years, and was joined during the event by Jerry Barilla, who was elected as his successor on Nov. 7.

Estimating attendance at events such as Tuesday’s is always a tough challenge. Barilla, who counts president of the fort board among his many volunteer positions in the community, put the number at more than 3,000.

That attendance shows how far the annual light-up event has come. It wasn’t that many years ago that there was no formal event, no celebration — only a city electrician coming by one evening and turning on the lights on the small tree that had been set up near the intersection of Third and Market streets.

Most of that growth has come because of the nutcrackers. No one really knew what to expect when the first 30 nutcrackers were set up in the park a couple of years ago, after Barilla and local businessman Mark Nelson worked together to bring the project to life.

The display grew to 100 nutcrackers last year and now stands at 150.

It’s a special collection — each of the 6-foot figures is produced by Nelson’s company, work that’s coordinated by his daughter, Therese. Each has been custom-decorated to show the theme of the sponsor. It’s a reflection of things that make the city and surrounding communities special.

Complementing the nutcrackers is the Advent Market, a collection of chalets that rings the fountain area and will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through the end of the year. The nutcrackers can be viewed every day.

“This is so cool,” said Tricia Maple-Damewood, as she walked through the displays Tuesday night. “Everyone has a smile on their face.”

Having an attraction like the one at the fort is important for the area, Maple-Damewood, who’s president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, has said. She was enjoying the evening with her husband, Dave Maple. The two are business owners, and Dave, who also is a Jefferson County commissioner, was among those who were able to look across Third Street at the courthouse, which is brightly lit.

Downtown was very vibrant Tuesday. It was, in fact, difficult to find a parking space in the central business district. All of the spots along Fourth Street between Washington and Adams streets were filled early in the evening.

All of that activity in the community is important, not just for the fort area, but for local businesses. It’s likely that those who come to downtown Steubenville to visit the nutcrackers and market will buy a meal while in town or fill their tanks with gasoline or visit a local business.

It’s so important that Trinity Health System has made a multi-year commitment to be the presenting sponsor of the event, and XFINITY has signed on as a sponsor.

The Christmas spirit will shine all season long at Nutcracker Village and Advent Market, displays that provide an activity that everyone can be proud of.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times,)