Gray Brooks remembers attending the downtown Durham Christmas parade as a little boy.
“I remember coming early, being cold, drinking hot chocolate or whatever drink my parents put in a thermos,” said Brooks, 48, co-owner of the downtown eatery Pizzeria Toro.
“It probably wasn’t that big a deal,” he said, “but when I was little, I felt like I was watching the Macy’s (Thanksgiving Day) Parade.”
City leaders are hoping to bring a little bit of that magic back to Durham after Mayor Bill Bell announced plans Monday night to revive the holiday parade in 2016.
Bell has created a holiday parade committee that includes City Council members Cora Cole-McFadden, Don Moffitt, Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson.
As the state’s fourth-largest city, filled with innovators and a variety of other successes, “we ought to be able to have a holiday parade,” Bell said.
He charged the committee to have a plan in place so the council can include a parade in the city’s draft budget next spring.
“It’s going to cost money. You don’t get anything free. Even Christmas doesn’t come free,” Bell said. “Especially Christmas.”
City Manager Tom Bonfield said Durham’s last holiday parade was in 2008. It was discontinued after concerns had been expressed for a number of years about the route disrupting traffic alongside downtown road and sidewalk construction. The 2008 parade was poorly attended, and there wasn’t a lot of participation, he said.
It’s going to cost money. You don’t get anything free. Even Christmas doesn’t come free.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell
Jim Brame, chairman of the 91-year-old Durham-based, family-owned distribution company Brame Specialty Co., said he remembers attending and taking his children to the Christmas parade.
Brame, 70, remembers a big production with large crowds in a downtown filled with department and other stores in a time when his mother wouldn’t be caught in the center city without her hat and gloves. Over the years, the department and other stores moved to malls and downtown became a different, less visited place.
Brame thinks that shift probably contributed to the decline of the holiday parade, he said.
But downtown Durham has evolved in the past eight years, with new restaurants, busy monthly art walks and new and invigorated surrounding districts, such as American Tobacco, Brightleaf and Golden Belt.
Brooks, who opened Pizzeria Toro in 2012, said he’s excited about the return of the parade for a number of reasons.
Beyond his childhood memories, a parade could pull those who still envision a deserted downtown back to the center city. While they are downtown, they may want to stop at some of the local businesses and buy some pizza, cupcakes or sandwiches.
“It can only help to have a few hundred or a few thousand people milling about for a little while,” Brooks said.
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