(This is Part 3 of a 3-part series.)
The Mooresville Christmas Parade committee, which this year consisted of fewer than a dozen people, starts planning the highly anticipated parade when most other folks are on summer vacation — in May or June. The first step in planning the parade every year is acquiring permission from Norfolk Southern since the railroad tracks run parallel to Main Street, where the parade takes place.
That’s another piece of Mooresville’s unique culture that has to be factored into parade planning: Not many people live in a rail town where the train still comes through, Dave Sopp, a parade volunteer, said.
And Norfolk Southern, John Amon — a longtime parade volunteer — added, “cannot stop the rail.” They simply say, “‘We will do our best’” to keep the train from coming through at the same time as the parade, he said.
Amon recalled a year when parade organizers found out on parade day — just hours before the parade was set to step off — that the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) had scheduled to pave Main Street that very day. He said the mayor and town manager at the time had to hurriedly call in favors from friends in Raleigh to reschedule the paving.
Even though the railway can’t be guaranteed to stop during the Mooresville Christmas parade, the parade committee has to file paperwork with the federal government for the railroad and with NCDOT since some of the roads that are closed for the parade are state-owned.
“We also have to file with the Town of Mooresville, and the Mooresville Police Department has to endorse it, then the town board has to vote on it,” Amon said. “Then we take that paperwork to NCDOT and to get our insurance certificates.”
All that paperwork has to include the date and time of the parade, along with maps.
“And those are just the simple logistics,” Amon said.
The parade committee has to consider the neighborhoods — the residents’ accessibility to both homes and businesses — where the parade is staged in the hours before stepping off. This is why a Tuesday at 3 p.m. works: because many of the impacted homeowners aren’t home at that time. “If the parade was on a weekend, people would be in and out of their homes,” Amon said. “It’s a safety consideration.”
Parade volunteers also have to consider Park View Elementary School, which is used for staging, and the Mooresville police and fire departments. “This is the only day out of the year that no one from the police and fire departments is allowed to take the day off,” said Amon. Police and fire representatives, he said, start attending the weekly parade committee meetings a couple months before the big day.
Rescheduling a rained-out parade creates too many complications. “With all the logistics, it’s hard enough to plan one parade, much less two,” Sopp said.
“There are so many moving parts,” Amon added.
He said the parade committee pays some parade participants, including marching bands, which have to foot the bill for their own transportation to and from the parade. But since band instruments and rain don’t mix, this year’s parade was missing all three of its usual southern Iredell high school marching bands.
Even if the parade committee could bypass all the logistical issues that would arise from rescheduling a rained-out parade to, for instance, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, “Forget having bands or groups with a lot of kids like Acrofitness in the parade,” Amon said, “because everyone would be gone for Thanksgiving.”
He said some youth athletic teams, including travel teams, may also have meets scheduled for the weekends.
Rescheduling to the weekend after Thanksgiving would also inconvenience many families of first responders. It’s not uncommon for law enforcement officers and firefighters to spend Thanksgiving at work. In Mooresville, they’re also required to be on duty the Tuesday before Thanksgiving for the parade. Those families often schedule their Thanksgiving gatherings for the weekend after the holiday.
If the parade — which many townfolk consider the official kickoff to the holiday season — has a scheduled rain date for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, then some first responders would be required to work the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving Day, and then they’d have to be prepared to work again on the parade’s scheduled rain date … just in case. This would make family gatherings for Thanksgiving practically impossible for them to plan. And it would make scheduling at the police department a nightmare.
Plus, the Saturday after Thanksgiving is Small Business Saturday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year for small retailers. And, of course, there’s football … and the parade float issue …
Local parades rent floats — most of them from the same place — to use every year, and, like everything else involved in parade planning, it’s a process.
“We’ve used Cline’s Floats out of Catawba for at least 50 years,” Amon said. Because Mooresville and Kannapolis, both of which use Cline’s for floats, hold their parades on the same day, “we’re limited in the number of floats we can get.”
“We rotate floats year to year,” Amon said. One year, Kannapolis may have a certain float. The next year, that one is reserved for Mooreville’s parade. “If you watch the Carousel Parade in Charlotte on Thanksgiving Day, you might see the same floats that were in Mooresville’s parade on Tuesday,” Amon said.
The float company provides the float, a truck and a driver, so once the floats are rented for a business, there’s no turning back. That’s why, during this year’s parade, a float rolled down Main Street advertising a business without anyone riding on it. The float had already been paid for, but the participants didn’t show because of the rain. “You paid for the float, so we send the floats down whether you have anybody on them or not,” Amon said.
Every year the parade committee has one big meeting to wrap up what went right and where improvements could be made for the next year. Inclement weather is sure to be a topic of discussion this year. Perhaps a “stationary” or nostalgic pickup truck parade could be considered as an alternative plan in future years. Or maybe an award for the best “Plan B” parade entry in the event of rain, wind, sleet or snow.
If you have an idea, the parade committee always welcomes volunteers to help pull off Mooresville’s official kickoff to the holiday season. They’ll start planning soon for the 80th annual Mooresville Christmas parade — how exciting!
No matter what, Sopp implored: “Remember we are a community. These parade volunteers are your neighbors. If you ever have any questions, call us! That’s what we’re here for. We can help with ideas.”
But rain or shine, the Mooresville Christmas Parade will always march on. “Whether you’re two or 102, the parade is for everybody,” Amon said. “We try to give an experience, and it’s something people can count on, no matter what.
“There’s a saying we have,” he said: “Parade happens.”