Bringing life to town

Many of you who are reading this can remember what a festive and bustling place downtown Steubenville was, especially around the holidays.

It doesn’t seem like it was that long along ago when you could spend an evening downtown, going from store to store before finding that perfect gift at the Hub or Denmark’s, grab a quick lunch at the counter at the 5-and-10 or inside Thrift Drug and maybe be able to catch a movie before heading back up the hill. You’d see families going from store to store, many planning a visit with Santa Claus.

Parking always was at a premium, especially along Fourth Street, and even in the several lots that were scattered around the downtown, and those issues were compounded as the number of days left until the holiday dwindled.

Downtown merchants had special holiday hours, and the sidewalks were packed as residents from across the Tri-State Area came to the city to shop, be entertained or just enjoy a meal.

Steubenville had that sense of vitality you can experience only in a city, and the air was filled with the excitement and anticipation that comes only with the Christmas season.

While a great deal of that atmosphere has long since gone from the downtown, there are a signs that some of that vitality is returning, as we have seen during the last few years.

One of the greatest examples came Tuesday, during the annual Steubenville Lights Up the Night event at Historic Fort Steuben. The energy that was seen in downtown was very impressive.

It was difficult to find a place to park — locating a space along Fourth Street between Adams and Washington streets was difficult. There was plenty of foot traffic through the downtown as families made their way to the park. There were a lot of people making their way through the Nutcracker Village, visiting each of the chalets in the Advent Market and greeting one another — old friends were sharing holiday greetings and new friends were being made.

Among those taking note was Mark Nelson.

“It is really breathing life back into the community,” said Nelson, whose team of artists has brought the 170 or so nutcrackers to life.

“It’s bringing life back into the downtown area and into the central business district of Steubenville, which just happens to be the Jefferson County seat.”

That excitement is important, Nelson explained.

“Oftentimes, downtowns in many communities are seen as the heart of the community. For years, when people came to do interviews about Steubenville, they ended up downtown, and it would look very old.”

In addition to the holiday activities at the park, buildings downtown have been decorated with holiday lights.

“This brings life back into it. The buildings are beautiful, all of the people are beautiful and light-up night is beautiful,” Nelson said. “It makes a space for families to get together.

“It gets people back downtown, and I think they are able to realize the possibilities, with commerce, with recreation or just the new use of space,” he added.

The popularity of the nutcrackers has grown since they first appeared in 2015. The village and market are no longer just a pleasant attraction for the locals — people from all parts of the Tri-State Area — and from many parts of the country — are making the trip to Steubenville to enjoy a little piece of holiday magic. Also expanding is the number of nutcrackers — they now can be found in storefronts along Market and Fourth streets.

“It really is growing,” Nelson explained. “It’s growing every year. We’re excited about light-up night, and for the next six weeks we have the nutcrackers and Advent market.”

Downtown Steubenville has had its share of setbacks during the years, but with the Nutcracker Village and Advent Market — and other downtown events, like the summer concert series at the Berkman Amphitheater, the Greek and Dean Martin festivals, Frontier Days and First Fridays on Fourth — there is an opportunity for another generation to build a whole new set of memories.

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