Sparkling displays spread joy in Lakeshore downtowns

Despite the doom and gloom of COVID-19, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas throughout the downtowns of Lakeshore communities.

Grand Haven, Holland, Saugatuck, Spring Lake, and Zeeland have dressed their downtowns in holiday decor — from light-trimmed trees to sparkling storefronts.

Decorated trees, storefronts, and window displays in downtown Zeeland announce the approaching Christmas holiday.
Where else but Holland would there be wooden shoes underneath the Christmas tree.

Downtown merchants in those communities have heightened the festive mood by creating an array of colorful window displays that leave no doubt as to what holiday draws near. The decorative touches in those downtowns provide a welcome relief from pandemic restrictions that have canceled the traditional holiday parades, visits with Santa Claus, and musical performances.

Biggest and brightest

Spring Lake may be among the smallest of the five communities, but the village stands out for displaying the biggest and brightest holiday light show this year.

Branded as the Spring Lake Sparkle Festival, more than 120,000 multicolored lights decorate the trees and drape the storefronts along Savidge Street — the downtown’s main thoroughfare — between Division and Buchanan streets.

The lakeshore's biggest and brightest holiday light show can be found in downtown Spring Lake.Decorated trees, buildings and light poles brighten up the sky above downtown Spring Lake.

This year marks the first time the village’s Downtown Development Authority has undertaken such an ambitious holiday light display, accomplished with the assistance of Lilley Mansion Bed and Breakfast and a number of downtown merchants.

Showcasing community

Robert Lopez and Patrick Roggenbau, owner/operators of the historic Lilley Mansion, came up with the idea for Spring Lake Sparkle as the first in a series of events to showcase the community.

Even Spring Lake's clock tower displays a festive look as part of Spring Lake Sparkle.
Funds for the lighting and decorations came from the Lilley Cares nonprofit foundation and participating downtown merchants. Besides taking part in community events, Lilley Cares acts as a fundraiser for other nonprofit organizations that share its mission — creating positive changes within the community.

“Patrick and I were looking for a way to participate in the community after we were so warmly welcomed following our purchase of the Lilley Mansion,” said Lopez, who is also Executive Director of Lilley Cares. “Spring Lake Sparkle is the first in a number of events we plan to participate in.”

‘Toned down’ due to pandemic

Because of the pandemic, event organizers had to cancel a number of scheduled activities. But Lopez said those cancellations have not dimmed the spirit of the event.

“Obviously, the event had to be toned down because of safety concerns for visitors and event volunteers. We had to postpone the Polar Express children’s train, pop-up musical performances, and food trucks. But the lighting display by itself is giving everyone something to smile about during these difficult times.”

A storefront window display in downtown Holland exudes the spirit of Christmas.
Lopez said a private company was contracted to install lights in the trees lining Savidge Street. But a volunteer committee of sponsors and organizers spent about six weeks wrapping the storefronts in colorful lights.

“A lot of love went into the hands-on decorating,” Lopez said. “This was truly a community effort.”

Drive-thru or stroll

The twinkling light show is scheduled to run nightly through Jan. 3 — an event for both drive-thru visitors and those who want a closer look by wandering downtown on foot.

Every tree along Grand Haven's main street gives off the festive glow of the holiday.

Lopez said he is heartened by the attendance early on, which has been characterized by a continuous stream of traffic rolling into downtown.

An aerial view of the Spring Lake light display from a drone’s perspective is available at facebook@springlakesparkle.

While the other lakeshore communities aren’t displaying a light show as grand as Spring Lake’s, visitors to those downtowns will have no problem experiencing the spirit of the holiday.

Decked out in Holland 

In Holland, the trunks of trees lining Eighth Street, the downtown’s main access, are decked out in holiday lights. In addition, the tree trunks surrounding nearby Centennial Park are also shining brightly.
A 20-foot Christmas tree in GDK Park represents downtown Holland's newest decorative element.
Family members warm up before heading out on a holiday tour of downtown Holland.

The newest addition to downtown’s holiday light display involved the city’s purchase and installation of a 20-foot artificial tree that is embedded with pre-wired lights. The tree brightens up GDK Park on the north side of Eighth Street between Central and River avenues.

The cost of purchasing and installing the tree was covered by local community members, organizations, and businesses through Patronicity, a crowdfunding website designed to assist community improvement projects.

Saugatuck’s tree tower 

In Saugatuck, every tree along Butler Street, the downtown’s main roadway, gives off a glow that welcomes visitors seeking a holiday experience.

An 80-foot Christmas tree tower brightens up the sky over downtown Saugatuck.
Downtown Saugatuck's storefronts don festive holiday decorations.
Visitors can follow the glow around the corner to the shops on Culver Street, a walk leading to Coghlin Park and an 80-foot Christmas tree tower. Used as a cellphone tower before its transformation, the star-topped tree tower glimmers over the business district with the radiance from 1,248 bulbs attached to 24 strands.

According to the Saugatuck/Douglas Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city bought the fabricated tree about five years ago for display at the south end of Butler Street along Kalamazoo Lake. Flooding caused by rising water levels prompted the relocation of the tree tower two years ago to nearby Coghlin Park, where it has found a permanent home.

Illuminated in Grand Haven

In Grand Haven, night turns into day during Christmastime when the lights decorating every tree along Washington Avenue, the downtown’s main through street, illuminate downtown. 
Holiday decorations brighten up Grand Haven's downtown.

A tour of downtown Zeeland's holiday decorations begins alongside the fireplace at Heritage Square.

Zeeland’s dazzling display

In Zeeland, the light-covered trees along Main Avenue, the downtown’s main street, give off the same dazzling effect. At downtown’s Heritage Square, a flickering fireplace flame and a decorated Christmas tree in Splash Pad Park add to the holiday glimmer.

More Mike Lozon photo essays:

COVID-19: Signs of the Times

Hope for recovery stirs as visitors flock to reopened Lakeshore downtowns

Pandemic, erosion force restrictions at state, county parks

Stay-at-home order brings ‘eerie quiet’ to gathering spaces

Pandemic changes face, feel of Holland Farmers Market

Read more articles by Mike Lozon.