The City of Malden, for decades, has hosted a holiday parade around the time of Thanksgiving, celebrating the major holidays of November and December. However, with the onset of the recovery from COVID-19, the City of Malden has decided not to bring back the holiday parade. The decision is complex and has many factors, but ultimately revolves around one central point: the city believes that the parade is just not the right thing for the city right now.

However, the city thinks that something must be done to replace the parade. As such, the City of Malden has created the concept of a “festival”: a small event, usually around Pleasant Street, that brings people to the center of the city, and has been a major factor in allowing businesses to stay open with the loss of traffic after COVID.

Kevin Duffy, the Strategy and Business Development Officer for the City of Malden, was behind much of the planning for these festivals, citing the frustrations of locked-down Maldonians: “We knew there was a lot of pent-up demand for Malden residents who wanted to get out and do something, and we also knew that the businesses had been suffering because people hadn't really been coming to the downtown,” he said. 

With these two facts in mind, Malden began hosting a series of festivals in the downtown area, helping to revitalize business after the lows of COVID. The festivals turned out to be an immediate success, with businesses singing their praises: “What we heard in the first year of the festival, all the businesses along Pleasant Street where the main summer festivals were taking place the first year, they said that their numbers were much higher than even the pre-pandemic years for the Saturdays…August is usually a very quiet time for businesses at downtown,” Duffy continued.

According to the Mayor of Malden, Gary Christenson, the origins of the parade stretch back to the 1990s, and potentially even further back than that: “When I was growing up, last I remembered, it was Ward One City Councillor Eleanor Cushing along with, I believe, Ward Three City Councillor Billy Spadafora…but this was back in the 90s… When I joined the city council, I teamed up with councilor-at-large Craig Spadafora to bring the event back to bring the parade back to Malden.” 

Even though the modern incarnation of the parade was Christenson’s own creation, there was little pushback from any side to keep the parade going after the pandemic passed in the city, and instead an alternative event was needed to help businesses: “we felt with the parades, you would have the parade and then it was all done, it was over. Everybody would just go their separate ways…we really felt it was incumbent upon us to do…what we could, with the capacity that we have, to try to help [local businesses] as best we could,”  Christenson explained.

Both Duffy and Christenson stated that the festivals were important to help promote local businesses and artists, with the Mayor especially supportive of local businesses, and expressing such: “...the second winter festival we just had…there were a number of local artists that were here selling their wares. We had the business community involved, the Malden Chamber of Commerce was here…we think it did what we had hoped, which was expose these entrepreneurs…” Duffy was able to provide some statistics, showing runaway growth at the festivals: “The first festival of the first year we had 25 tables. But in the last festival in that first year, we had 95 tables. So obviously there was a demand for local artists to be able to sell their wares…in the second year, we consistently averaged about 90 tables. Year three, we'd like to get up to about 150-200 tables.”

The Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Joan Ford Mongeau, also weighed in on the subject, with many favorable opinions about the festivals: “We did a survey after the first set of summer festivals, and everything was very, very positive…I didn't receive any negative feedback.” Mongeau lauded the ability of the festivals to generate traffic that would proceed into local establishments, and indeed this is a point that Christenson and Duffy also appreciated. All the reports submitted to the Chamber of Commerce showed that every single respondent had increased traffic at their businesses: “Some people measured it differently. Some people measured it in terms of sales, some people mentioned it in terms of full tables, some people measured it in terms of [food tickets], so everybody measured it differently, but I did not hear anyone say that it negatively impacted their business.” Ms. Mongeau, and presumably the Chamber of Commerce, support the continued appearance of these festivals to promote business in the City.

The Holiday Parade is a time-honored tradition in the City of Malden, and there is no doubt that at some point in the far future it will return to the city to grace its residents once more. However, in these extraordinary times, it becomes necessary to switch to something different to help our city. The change, albeit saddening, is a welcome one, as businesses and consumers alike are able to make the most out of their entire day, rather than just a couple of hours watching parade floats go by.

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