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|Jingle bells ringing in downtown West Monroe|
Christmas came a little early on Antique Alley Wednesday as Santa Claus stopped by to help kick off West Monroe's first Christmas on the Alley festival.
This holiday season, Santa Claus can be found in Antique Alley amid an array of multi-colored lights, carolers and carriage rides.
The official holiday lighting ceremony will take place Saturday, Nov. 29, but several stores have already decorated their fronts with Christmas trees and holiday wares.
This is the first year the city of West Monroe will decorate Antique Alley with Christmas lights. City leaders decided to move the annual Christmas festival from Kiroli Park to Antique Alley to encourage more people to visit shops along the alley.
"It's exciting when you can take something that's old, and make it new again," said Alana Cooper, executive director of Monroe/West Monroe Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"We're in the perfect place to do that with Antique Alley," Cooper said. "They have old, unique buildings, and we have a great attraction here."
On Dec. 5-7, families are encouraged to visit Antique Alley for activities, shopping, food, Santa's corner, the Cottonland Christmas Parade, Monroe Jaycees' Christmas fireworks extravaganza and all-day entertainment.
The following weekends will include an "old fashioned Christmas" with carolers filling the streets and a "last blast for shopping" to finish up the Christmas season.
One of the goals for the new festival is to attract more out-of-town visitors, Cooper said.
"December is our slowest month for bringing in visitors, and we know there is a need there," she said. "Now we have something that will draw in people from out of our area, and it also will provide something for people in our community to enjoy."
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said many years ago the city began building Christmas decorations. That work was done by Brady James Sr., the father of former West Monroe High School and LSU standout Brady James, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.
"He was really the guy who first started designing the Christmas decorations at the park," Norris said. "That's where most of those Christmas decorations that we had at Kiroli Park for so many years came from."
"We think this is an even better use for those Christmas lights and decorations," Norris continued. "We're going to put them in the downtown area and there's nothing more old fashioned than a Christmas that goes down to Antique Alley. We think this will be a festival that will get bigger as the years go by. We're going to add things to it every year. We may not rival Natchitoches, but we'll come pretty close in the years to come."
Sandra Bourgeois, West Monroe's director of Parks and Recreation, came up with the idea to have a Christmas festival along Antique Alley. She mentioned her idea to Cooper one day. They decided to present the concept to the Antique Alley Association.
"This was a dream of mine, and I finally said it to the right person," Bourgeois said. "We think this is the perfect opportunity to provide family fun and shopping all in the same place. I want to bring families down here and I want them to have fun shopping locally."
Mike McMahan, owner of Trenton Street Antiques and a member of the Antique Alley Association, said the group is excited to be a part of this new festival.
"We realize we have a unique street and area to work from, and we'd like to give back to the community," McMahan said. "We think the first year will be a learning process, but from that, every year, we think it will grow and people from all over northeast Louisiana will come to see the lights and hopefully shop here."
Cooper added, "If we can get more to come here and do their Christmas shopping, that's an impact to our community and an impact for all of us."
The convention and visitors bureau will market the festival in Jackson, Miss., and Little Rock, Ark., to draw more people into the region for their Christmas shopping, Cooper said.