The Gettysburg Community “Daring Greatly”

As President of Main Street Gettysburg (MSG), I often say, MSG is the community.  It sounds so trite.  The overwhelming success of A Gettysburg Christmas Festival (AGCF) speaks specifically to this point.

Post festival, MSG has gathered a whole host of feedback from guests, hotels, businesses, community members, volunteers and Borough staff members.  There are several improvements to be made, however, consistently we hear that the festival was a fun day for the community and a huge economic success for everyone.

On the night of the festival, I walked into Lord Nelson’s and George Lower said, “I have never seen so many people in downtown Gettysburg in the 30 years that I have been here. Well Deb, what was done differently?”   

As I reflected, I realized the true recipe for the success was the overwhelming commitment of so many who “dared greatly” as Theodore Roosevelt put it, to have the courage to invest and make this festival happen. Many had talked about a Christmas festival over the years, but no one took the leap of faith to take action.

In 2015, the Steinwehr Avenue BID created the Victorian Christmas on Steinwehr with an annual budget of $5,000 that has continued to be invested to expand the event.

MSG realized a town-wide event would be more attractive to both the town and attendees so in 2017, MSG invited non-profits to form A Christmas Committee.  They were Olde Getty Place, Stephanie McIllwee, GARMA, Kathy Gilbert, and the Gettysburg Borough, Becky LaBarre.  This group focused on including and promoting existing non-profit Christmas events as a Gettysburg Christmas experience.

The downtown merchants inquired about joining the Christmas initiatives, so Deb Adamik approached Roger Lund, the owner of The Christmas Haus, about taking the lead for the downtown merchants.  Agreeing to start small, he immediately connected with the shop owners.   Through these discussions, Roger created the name A Gettysburg Christmas Festival, and found block leaders to implement themes in their area.  Roger created the “buzz” and enthusiasm among the merchant community.  His hard work and timing was key to the festival’s success.  Given we had -0- dollars for a budget, the merchants festive participation and activities became the festival.

Seeking donors was a priority, so the MSG Board of Directors agreed that MSG would be the fiduciary agent and official host of this event. 

In July, Annie Frazee, VP of MSG, created a Facebook event and it went viral.  No one was prepared or ready for this level of response.   Between July and December 1, 2018 Annie Frazee hosted, reviewed and managed 110,000 Facebook event followers.

When MSG called the hotels in August, it was confirmed that people were not just talking about the festival, they were scheduling rooms during a tourism season that typically is slow in our area. 

AGCF Committee knew they had to take planning to a higher level.  The MSG Executive Committee approved a new MSG AGCF Steering Committee, chaired by the newly appointed MSG Director, Roger Lund.  In addition to Roger, Charles Gable, Borough Manager, joined to plan for operations, security, parking and infrastructure in the Borough.  Of course, the staff of MSG rounded out the team.

As the numbers of interested people grew, the event planning responsibilities had to be shared.  Roger Lund not only provided enthusiasm and direction, he was hands-on with program planning, signage planning and execution, event set-up, PR/Media in collaboration with Destination Gettysburg, budget development and oversight, sponsorship planning, and leadership role for the merchants.  Roger was a very critical leader of the team.

Charles Gable, realized that the festival had now grown to community-wide and needed the borough’s help and sponsorship.  More than 18 Borough staff members participated in setting up and tearing down signs, stages, barricades, overseeing parking and banners. Included were the police in planning and covering the event.

The MSG staff (Annie and Deb) went to work finding sponsors, event planning, developing communications with visitors through Facebook management, hotels and community partners through emails, setting up the necessary accounting, recruiting and overseeing volunteers, arranging portapots, arranging free hotel shuttle, and tapping into the many MSG partnerships such as HACC, Gettysburg Tours and Gettysburg College for in-kind services.

AGCF Committee expanded with 6 block captains responsible for creating area themes and experiences and so many businesses participating and having fun.  Partner organizations held wonderful events like Breakfast with Santa, Gingerbread Competition and many more.

There were 20 financial sponsors and in-kind contributions for free carriages, portapots, free shuttles and signage. (agettysburgchristmasfestival.com)

In-kind contributions included Max Felty who sponsored the shuttle from HACC and Shannon Harvey and staff at HACC who allowed for MSG to use the lot and charge for parking.  Chris Berger was the official host on the hotel shuttle, Rabbit Transit provided signs and shuttle service, Destination Gettysburg provided assistance with designing the logo and brochures, as well as paid for the event shuttle.  The Majestic Theater had a free movie showing.

There were more than 55 volunteers that set up, provided information services, parking and clean up, including the From the Ground Up Team, an MSG volunteer group led by Susan Naugle and Nancy & Kurt Kramer.

I’m confident that I missed many.  So I send a blanket thank you to all of the community, merchants, residents, sponsors and volunteers.

So to answer George Lower’s question?  What was different?  Many things, but most importantly the readiness and willingness for our community to work as one and “dare greatly.”

As Marty Mummert, a sign shop owner in town, said, “I saw faces with wonder and happiness……It was a whole new proud moment for Gettysburg and it shined.”