Dec 29, 2009

It *was* a merry Christmas Town

Back on a balmy morning in August as I hawked my wares at the Williamsburg Farmers Market, a lovely lady named Laura Barrow approached me about a new event at Busch Gardens called Christmas Town. Despite the swelter of summer, crafters, like larger retailers, are already planning for the holiday shopping season, what products to offer, what venues to attend, etc. With the prospect of setting up at a major theme park, one I had personally been trying to get back to visit for twelve years, I leapt at the chance.

A thought occurred to me as I set up my booth - Busch Gardens is really helping to fight the recession, and not just for their own benefit. Dozens of crafters and independent concessionaires were able to extend their season and the employees were provided with at least six more weekends on employment in a difficult job market.

The management at Busch Gardens did a lot right. The park was decked out in the quaintest holiday style, the pinnacle being a 45 foot tree with a choreographed light and music show (somewhat less whimsical after listening to it every half hour for fifteen nights). Propane heaters were set up in regular intervals, at least in Germany, so visitors and vendors alike could sidle up and thaw out. Equally common were vendors with hot cocoa. If you went and didn't get a cup of the peppermint fudge cocoa, you missed the best part. The live shows were extremely popular - people would wait an hour or more for seating. The glimpse I had of 'Deck the Halls' looked captivating, but I would really have loved to take my nieces and nephews to the Sesame Street show. (You're never too old for Muppets.) There was even snow and live penguins.

They are also to be commended on good use of social networking. Their Facebook page allowed them to get far more feedback than the old system of hoping a customer feels motivated to send an email or look for an 800 to call. They looked at the comments and implemented changed the following weekend. Not next year, next week.

The cold did make for difficult working conditions at times. You really had to pack a lot of layer-able clothes and I never left the house without those little hand and toe warmers, the one that feels like a teabag of sand. I was there fourteen our of eighteen nights, but it turns out I only had about thirteen nights worth of resilience in my body and spent the last night shivering. But it's late December, whatchagonnado? If there was one thing I would have done away with, though, it was the music. While walking from country to country, the thematic music gives great ambiance. However, when standing in the same spot for 105 hours, listening to the same eight German carols play in an endless loop, it's somewhat less enjoyable. (In fact, I am fully convinced that when I arrive in Hell, that's the music that will be playing in the waiting room.)

All in all, I would call Christmas Town at Busch Gardens a success. I look forward to working it next year and hopefully even have time to visit.

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