MANCHESTER – Christmas in the Pines returned once again to the Whiting section of the township with the second annual event held at the Whiting Town Center Plaza.
The event proved quite festive for adults and children with a market fair, music, food, hot chocolate and a visit from a jolly gentleman in red. It also allowed for some early holiday season shopping.
This year’s weather was a marked improvement from last year’s chilly and windy afternoon and event coordinator and Manchester Chamber of Commerce President (and now Mayor-Elect) Robert Arace and his volunteers were happy about that.
The Chamber of Commerce has been working to assist businesses in the township and has also worked to bring in new businesses to the community for the last two years. “This our second year and the reason we are having an event here is to draw attention to Whiting Town Center. I feel like a lot of the town center feels like a ghost town as it is half empty but as people see tents here today, they are pulling in to find out what is going on and they are excited,” Arace said.
“Eight years ago, it was probably at 80% occupancy so there is hope. The argument is always demographics but there a number of things that are very hopeful. Whether it is Aldi’s, Lidl or some regional grocer, they want traffic. If you look at Aldi’s as a benchmark, they look for 20,000 cars a day. On Lacey Road six years ago we had 18,000 cars per day. So, six years later if we get a NJDOT (New Jersey Department of Transportation) study I bet it would show that we are at 20,000 cars a day,” Arace added.
He added that by “realistically showing life and volume in the parking lot is possible and that its future bodes well for mom-and-pop shops. Having volume and people in the lot shows that there is life and interest.
“We have 20 vendors today and we are expecting around 400 people or so to show up,” he added.
Showing up early were several residents of Crestwood Village VI. They all looked festive dressed in their holiday attire of sweaters and even sunglasses. Lynn Kovao of Jackson Township joined them for event walking beside Zoe Ludas, 6, Cheryl Norton and Penelope Claire, 8.
“This is their first year at this event,” Norton said.
There was a crowded tent that featured a variety of vendors ranging from baked goods to a stand selling specialized soaps to Wigs by MaryRose.
Karen Davis, known as “Shadow Dancer” whose ethnic background is of native American, has been operating a business for 38 years and was selling dream catchers, jewelry and more.
Holly Pullen of Pemberton Township said this was her first year for the event and that she was enjoying it. She is the owner of the Sugar Plum Fairy Bakery and she had cookies, crumb cake, pie and various other sweets. “This has been great. I started up in March of this year,” she said.
Other booths included gourmet cupcakes, home décor, sweat shirts, and candles that included featured a variety of holiday scents.
Whiting Fire Company # 33 made sure Santa Claus arrived right on time and he had plenty of gifts to give out and children to greet during the afternoon. Four-year-old Frank Burruss was quick to run up and check out what Santa had in the boxes sitting beside him.
Those boxes were filled with wrapped presents and Santa chuckled as he sat on the bumper of the fire truck at the child’s smile and enthusiasm as he held up his present.