Two years ago, downtown Hayward, Wisconsin was anything but exciting during the holiday season. Main Street was lifeless and the merchants were complaining because no one was shopping. You could find a few Christmas decorations but people didn’t seem to care.
There just wasn’t much Christmas spirit in Hayward.
Local merchants Jan Beatty and Barb Hand sensed a problem. They were walking down Main Street and knew something needed to be done to liven up their community. Their challenge was they had absolutely no idea what to do or where to turn.
Then it happened. Someone emailed Barb a video to one of those incredible Christmas light displays synchronized to music. She showed it to Jan and they couldn’t stop talking about the possibilities. What if they could make Hayward a holiday destination that would attract people from everywhere?
Soon they were talking to Wayne Jennings at Winterland, Inc. (www.WinterlandInc.com) in Marion, Indiana. He became their inspiration to move forward, gave them guidance and kept them focused. Anybody could decorate for Christmas but Hayward needed a WOW factor the first year to attract the attention. Wayne had done municipal projects and knew the tricks.
We tracked down Wayne and asked him about Hayward. A huge smile spread across his face as he described working with a pair of the most enthusiastic Christmas people he had ever met. “Barb and Jan have Christmas in their blood. I’m talking to them regularly and they are such a delight. All I have to do is make a suggestion of how to do something or how to do it better and they’re all over it. Hayward is lucky to have these two wonderful ladies.”
Wayne guided them through what was needed to find sponsorship dollars, getting the merchants involved and how to hang the lights. He even knew how to computerize the lights so they could dance to the music like that video Barb had seen earlier. Wayne really impressed Jan and Barb.
The ladies had a new mission in life. They were going to make Hayward, Wisconsin a Christmas time destination.
They needed a name for the event so Jan and Barb worked with a couple more creative ladies. Since the Hayward area is known for outstanding fishing and is home to the freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, it didn’t take long to come up with “A ‘Lure’ of Lights.”
Armed with nothing but a lot of gumption, Jan and Barb started talking to other merchants and describing their vision of making Hayward a holiday destination. It was pretty tough going in the beginning. Most merchants couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to come to their sleepy little community during Christmas. The ladies got depressed and called Wayne. He gave them some suggestions how to help the merchants see the benefits of participating and slowly-but-surely Jan and Barb started getting buy-in. The merchants began contributing money and “A ‘Lure’ of Lights” started to come alive. Hayward wasn’t going to simply decorate. Hayward was going to create that special holiday atmosphere people long for and remember from their childhoods.
Getting the money to buy the decorations is one thing but putting up the decorations is quite another. The ladies convinced Wayne to make an eight hour trip to Hayward to teach them how to string the lights on the buildings. Jan and Barbs’ husbands were volunteered to learn the lighting techniques and pretty soon, the buildings started to get covered. After a while others began helping and lights were being donated. “A ‘Lure’ of Lights” was finally taking shape.
Some of the merchants still didn’t get it but the momentum was now there and new ideas started flowing. Soon a Christmas parade was taking shape. Hot chocolate crawls were planned. In-store specials were discussed. With a little help from Wayne they figured out how to make the lights dance to the music at certain times during the evening. Everything fell into place.
The lights finally came on in 2011. Locals stood in the middle of the street simply amazed at what Hayward had become. Couples were dancing to the Christmas music having a great time talking to each other and visiting the stores. The Wisconsin state tourism director made a surprise visit and couldn’t stop bragging about what Hayward had done. “A ‘Lure’ of Lights” was a success. Jan and Barb had brought the Christmas spirit to a sleepy little town in Wisconsin and created that special place for the holidays.
Months later people would make trips back to Hayward just to see what else the town had to offer (though we think some were really looking for a good excuse to try a little fishing). The same people went out of their way to thank the merchants for that special Christmas spirit they created. Jan and Barb couldn’t be more pleased.
Now the decorating has already begun for 2012. Hayward just received a state grant and has marketing dollars to promote “A ‘Lure’ of Lights” to the surrounding areas. More merchants have climbed on board and the lights are being extended to other areas of the town. The master calendar includes nights for the Salvation Army, Christmas caroling sing-off and a snow shovel decorating contest.
Hayward, Wisconsin is now a very special place during Christmas. Find out more at http://www.haywardareaholidays.com/
This article was included in the July 2012 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Marla Smith