JP Observer: Holiday decorations come from collaboration

‘Tis the season to talk about holiday decorations in the Jamaica Plain business districts.

What?! Temperatures are in the 80s and 90s these days!

Strange as it seems—just as retail stores look ahead when ordering stock—the local business associations have to start thinking about decorating the business districts now for the winter holidays near the end of the year.

The Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association (JP BAPA) sponsored a unique, community driven and inspired decorating program last year that it hopes to expand for the 2017-2018 season. Local groups, nonprofits, and individuals worked together to decorate nodes of colored lights in large, prominent locations last year that drew a lot of positive comments. This effort came after research and gathering input by a special committee early last spring.

The result was that JP BAPA offered local nonprofits each a small reimbursement to offset costs, and several agreed to participate. The results: The beautiful lawn in front of the First Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain; the restoration of the three strands of lights from the steeple of the First Church Unitarian Universalist; the lights at South Street Mall; the lit evergreen at the Loring-Greenough House. Dozens of volunteers worked together in a true spirit of community cooperation to put up the bigger displays. Jeffrey Ferris of Ferris Wheels and Fresh Copy was a key helper.

JP BAPA has been giving small cash prizes to local businesses that decorate their stores for the past five years. Plans call for the incentive program to continue. Prizes of first place: $50, and second place: $30; plus 11 more prizes of $20 each are to help defray costs of decorations and reward good decorations for the district. Winners are announced and prizes usually awarded at the BAPA holiday party.

JP BAPA board member Michael Reiskind organizes judging of the decorations that take the anonymous volunteer judges on long walks from the corner of Moraine and Centre streets south all the way down Centre and South to Forest Hills.

Such grassroots decorating efforts are somewhat unusual these days, as many other business districts feature lighted decorations installed with bucket trucks on streetlights, nets strung with glittering paper and other more elaborate, expensive holiday displays. Decorations in some cities and towns around Boston are funded, including installation, by taxpayers.

JP BAPA’s reliance on its own treasury and community resources springs from the lack of some basic public resources and physical conditions that affect their choices. JP BAPA has had to confront these decorations realities:

1) The streetlight poles on Centre and South streets do not have outlets in them, unlike newer poles in some other neighborhoods, making access to electricity for lights of any kind difficult. Battery and solar-powered decorations are smallish and quite expensive.

2) Any small decorations repeated along the business corridor tend to get lost in the existing visual “clutter” of traffic signs, signs on buildings, trees, and even trolley poles here. Decorations tend to show better in “nodes” in business districts.

3) Banners, small or large, don’t work well at all in Boston winters due to the heavy “wind load” put on them.

4) Larger artist-made displays tend to cost many thousands, counting installation hardware and labor. The decorations themselves can usually be stored in a local business with enough space, but most usually last only up to about five years due to wear and tear.

JP BAPA is still in the planning stage for collaborative decorations this year. Proposals from more nonprofits and other property owners interested in creating larger non-religious-themed light and other displays would be welcome.

Every year, some buildings in the district aren’t decorated at all, leaving dark strips in the Centre/South shopping and dining corridor. JP BAPA is encouraging businesses and nonprofits that don’t usually decorate to join their neighbors this year.

Decorations have been surprisingly controversial in the Centre/South district for decades. Some JP people seem to like to voice strong opinions about decorations, no matter what they are.

The most extreme example of complaining occurred in the late 1980s, when someone walked into the store of a Centre Street merchant. (The store and the merchant don’t need to be named and are not here any longer. Neither do the specific decorations need to be described.) The man asked the merchant behind the counter if he is the president of JP BAPA. When the store owner said yes, the customer asked, “Are the decorations on the street sponsored by JP BAPA?” When the president said yes, the guy said, “Well, they’re terrible!” He reached over, punched the merchant in the face and ran off. The owner/president was cut and bruised, but nothing was broken, and he needed no stitches.

People in the community have no reason to punch anyone or even get upset over something as supposedly pleasurable as holiday decorations. Current JP BAPA president Melvin Tutiven, East Boston Savings Bank’s JP branch manager, should have nothing to worry about.

By the time it turns cold again, it is hoped that everyone will be able to show their appreciation of decorations on Centre and South streets by thanking businesses, organizations and individuals that spend their time, energy and money to make the area an inviting, bright corridor of the neighborhood in the cold, dark days of winter ahead.

Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette. She is on the board of the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association as a local writer and poet and works on holiday decorations there.


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