By Jay Cook |
There’s something to be said about an abundantly decorated downtown during the holiday season. Along with horse-drawn carriage rides and celebrating its annual Town Lighting ceremony later this week, Red Bank has established itself as a regional focal point for experiencing the holiday season.
But with so much going on in town, it’s a wonder how this small riverside borough prepares for its busiest month of the year.
“There’s nothing really like this around in the area,” said James Scavone, executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, a nonprofit advocacy group for borough businesses. “Because of that we have such a large draw and it really lets us shine for the holidays.”
Arguably Red Bank’s biggest attraction during the holiday season is its yearly Town Lighting, now going strong into its 25th year with this rendition set for Nov. 24. Highlighted by an evening performance from Holiday Express, the annual concert will mark a quarter century of uniting people for the most anticipated time of the year.
While that event draws the headlines, it wouldn’t be possible if not for the nearly two month, overtime-driven preparation before Black Friday.
Over the past 13 years, Jim Bruno and his staff at Powerhouse Sign Works, located on Red Bank’s West Side, have mastered the art of transforming every corner of Red Bank into a premiere holiday destination.
The holidays never end for Bruno. In April or May, he begins scouring the area for a Christmas tree to be erected at Riverside Gardens Park. This will be the second year in a row that Fir Farm in Colts Neck has donated Red Bank’s ornamental tree.
And throughout the rest of the year, his staff is in the shop refurbishing some of the most dated holiday ornaments left for another year in the elements.
“It’s got to be a labor of love,” Bruno said. “We’ve been doing it so long that we’re afraid that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done right.”
Beginning the second week of October, Powerhouse Sign Works employees are up and down Broad Street, Riverside Avenue and West Front Street stringing lights, standing decorations up and hanging banners across busy roadways.
Bruno said the five- to six-week preparation is necessary for the amount of work in his company’s hands. Around 150,000 individual lights are placed on about 50 Broad Street trees. Add in exactly 54 wreaths adorned on parking meters and light poles, and Red Bank is only one heavy snow away from looking like the North Pole.
“Everybody thinks we pull these lights out of our pocket the day after Thanksgiving,” Bruno said, matter-of-factly. “It just doesn’t happen like that.”
Then comes those aged holiday decorations. The “Peace on Earth” signs hanging over West Front Street and Bridge Avenue are easily 30 years old, Bruno said. The Christmas trees placed along the water’s edge at Riverside Gardens Park have been used for nearly three decades. And the oldest? That would be the bright red, tinsel-wrapped “Happy Holidays” fixture at the Veterans Park pocket park. It has worked for at least 35 years and is still going, Bruno added.
Scavone believes it’s that sense of nostalgia which continues to make Red Bank stand out to its thousands of visitors during the holidays.
“We want them to remember Red Bank as a holiday destination so they continue to come back every year,” he said. “It’s to make their experience pleasant and memorable.”
All of that preparation will culminate later this week when Holiday Express takes the stage at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24 to perform seasonal tunes with their own professional flare. Immediately following that at 8 p.m. will be the official town lighting, a moment Scavone has come to both appreciate and stress over.
Connected by radio transmitters, workers line Broad Street waiting for the moment to simultaneously, and literally, flip the switches to bring Red Bank to light.
“For the first time the lights come on it definitely marks the beginning of the season,” Scavone said. “I say it’s our most stressful two minutes of the year.”
“It’s a sense of accomplishment,” Bruno added. “Everybody sees and goes ‘ooh and aah,’ but they don’t realize the time that went into it to make it happen.”
All of the decorations will stay up in Red Bank until the sec- ond week of January, and the lights don’t come down until Daylight Saving Time in March. And although the holiday spirit never quite slows down for Powerhouse Sign Works, Bruno said he welcomes the challenge every year.
“All my guys are Red Bank firemen, all of them have been on the first aid squad. All of us are town boys,” Bruno said. “We’re not some outside contractor that comes in and doesn’t participate in Red Bank. And that’s important to us.”
This article was first published in the holiday section of the Nov. 23-30, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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