The following article is taken from the November 2009 issue of the Main Street Journal. Click “Subscribe Online” above to start your subscription.
Nostalgia & Tradition: Holidays at the Historic Collierville Town Square
By: Jonathan Devin
Laura Todd’s job came with an exceptional perk: the view from her office, arguably, one of the loveliest in Shelby County.
“I tell everybody I’ve got the best office in Shelby County because I get to see all the seasons change,” said Todd, executive director of Main Street Collierville, the nonprofit organization that works to preserve the heritage of Collierville’s Historic Town Square.
From her office in the restored Collierville train station on the southern edge of the square, Todd can see the bandstand out of one window and the many brick shops and restaurants which line the square out of others.
These days, she’s watching autumn fade into winter. The hay bales, chrysanthemums, pumpkins, and gourds piled up by light posts and park benches become poinsettias, garlands of holly, and strings of crisp white lights.
With the chilly weather comes a series of community activities which Todd said brings families and friends together with a warm sense of nostalgia and tradition.
“That big tree is there all year long,” said Todd, pointing to a 30-foot conifer, just across the street. “It’s our Christmas Tree. It is lit every year. It’s always the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, so this year it will be December first. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”
Todd, who is originally from Sikeston, Missouri and who was educated at Ole Miss explained that Main Street Collierville’s goal this season is to work with the Town of Collierville to make the Town Square the center of holiday festivities.
Collierville is responsible for the lighting of the many trees on the square, for example, but other activities are coordinated through her office.
“We do partner with the town on a lot of things, but we’re our own stand alone 501(c)3,” says Todd. “And we’re a Main Street Community. Main Street is certified by the National Trust for Preservation. We are one of 23 in the state of Tennessee, and the only one in Shelby County.”
The organization was established in 1991. Todd got involved as a volunteer first, and later became a board member before taking the job of executive director.
“I say (the Square) is the heart and soul of Collierville,” said Todd. “It was the original business center in the late 1800’s. People still come for community events, prayer breakfasts, children’s activities, or school field trips. It’s a destination for shopping and dining.”
Throughout the year, Todd works with property owners to fill vacancies and to retain existing businesses. She also keeps them within the aesthetics of a historic community—avoiding garish neon signage, for example.
Todd’s holiday calendar kicks off with the opening of the shopping season on Saturday, November 14 when the square hosts its annual Fall Holiday Open House. Merchants on the square will open their doors to customers with their new shipments of holiday gifts and wares.
Then on Saturday, December 12, the square will be transformed into a festival of open-air vendors, children’s activities, and live music.
“Then we’ll top it off in the evening with a chili cook-off,” said Todd. “Before the day ends, we’ll have luminaries throughout the park and we’ll have a community gathering to sing holiday songs at the bandstand and we’ll show our movie.”
Traditionally, the movie has been “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore as an angel earning his wings by showing a frustrated businessman how his life has impacted the people around him.
A movie screen stretched across one end of the bandstand faces an open lawn where viewers enjoy the film in huddled masses of blankets.
“For the outdoor movie we have hot chocolate, cider, and people bring their own lawn chairs and blankets,” said Todd. “We normally show ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ because it ties into the community and it’s an old, nostalgic movie.”
Todd expects about 300 people to attend. If that sounds like a lot for the small grassy square, she said that’s nothing compared to the thousands that attend Main Street’s summer concert series. The party band The Bouffants holds the record for attendance at 4,500 people.
One thing that will be new this season is the painting of a town mural on the side wall of a building bordering Washington Street. The now plain white wall will be transformed through November and December into scenes from Collierville’s founding in the 1800’s.
Davey’s Studios provided the design.
“They did some of the murals that are at AutoZone Park and some on Beale Street,” said Todd. “Because we’re a Main Street Community, we have availability of some state grants. The state offered us an innovation grant and we partnered with Leadership Collierville. Hopefully, the mural will be done in six to eight weeks.”
The project was first proposed in 2002 but stalled a couple years later. Todd said she thinks the mural will be a gateway to newly redeveloped areas on Washington.
Scenes chosen for the mural include the railroad, silos representing Collierville’s agricultural heritage, a women’s college, and a white church at the corner of Main and Poplar which may someday be used as a welcome center.
Todd added that Collierville’s annual Christmas parade will take to the streets on December 4 spanning Byhalia Road from White Road to Collierville High School.
Even before Halloween, businesses on the square seemed to be getting into the Christmas spirit.
“Tim Miller at Natural Creations already has his decorations out for the holidays and First Fruit Collection already has a Christmas tree in the window,” said Todd.
But then, as quickly as it came, the season will change again.
“I kind of miss it in January when they take down the lights,” said Todd. “They will start right after Halloween before Thanksgiving, and the guys will be out here everyday stringing up the lights.”
Perhaps what amazes her most though is how quickly each event is cleaned from the grounds of the square, leaving no trace the day after.
“You come through the very next day and you would never know it,” said Todd. “I kid with people sometimes that they must count every blade of grass out there.”