With First Street and Palmetto Avenue closed off Saturday evening, representatives of virtually every ethnic and cultural group in Sanford enjoyed live music, Johnsonville Brats, hotdogs, hot chocolate, cold beer, cookies and a sense of holiday spirit.
The Sanford Fire Department used Tower Truck 31 to pluck Santa Claus from rooftop of The Willow Tree/Maya Books building after receiving a “call” informing them that Santa was “stuck” in the chimney.
As he stepped safely into the fire truck bucket high above First Street, with a street full of excited children cheering in anticipation of his arrival, Santa said: “It was wonderful to be rescued in time for the holidays.”
He said the delay incurred by getting stuck put him a bit behind schedule and his elves would now have to work twice as hard to make up for lost time. After being lowered to street level, Santa sat in his sleigh and spent the next hour or so visiting with the children of Sanford.
Standing nearby, party hostess Susan Richards said: “It’s wonderful as usual. Any time we do an event like this it’s good for Sanford. This reflects the population of Sanford and its diversity.”
Admiring the scene around her, Mayor Linda Kuhn said of her long-time friends Steve and Susan Richards: “You can’t find anybody with bigger hearts than the Richards family.”
At one point during the festivities, while the band Quick Change was on break, the mayor asked the DJ to play “The Electric Slide.” She was then joined on the big stage dance floor with Steve Richards and other members of the community for a 5-minute electric slide “party ride.”
As he made his way from one end of the party to another, Steve Richards said, “I think it’s a great, great party. I’ve got nothing but praise from people saying this is exactly the type of thing Sanford needs.”
When asked how hosting the party downtown compared to hosting it at his home, Richards said, “It’s more organized — the parents with kids are in one area and adults doing adult things are in another. As the night wore on, everyone migrated to Palmetto [where the beer and the band were] just as I thought they would.”
Attending the event with his son, Charlie, Tony Grillo said: “It’s always appreciated and we think the world of Steve and his generosity.” As to how the street party compared to the home party, Grillo said, “It’s just as good, but it’s different. It feels more like a downtown thing than someone hosting a party.”
Earlier that night, with his face covered with the remnants of his hot chocolate, Charlie Grillo stood in line with his dad, anxiously awaiting his chance to converse with Santa. Charlie walked away from his visit with St. Nick holding a brand new toy fire truck tricked-out with flashing red lights.
Standing with her friend Polly Haws from Hamilton Elementary, Pat Tillman said: “It’s awesome. I think it brings the community together.” After covering her Johnsonville Brat with grilled onions and peppers, Tillman, a teacher at Sanford Middle School, and a proponent of the school’s “math palace,” said, “We’re here for the food, the fun and the fellowship.”
Tillman and Haws were out riding around looking at Christmas lights and happened upon the street party. “We had no idea this was going on,” she said.
Inside Maya Books, owner Yvette Comeau seemed pleased by the additional customers the Saturday night street party attracted.
“I see a lot of happy faces and a lot of new faces. It’s great to see the community having fun for fun’s sake,” she said.
Over at the Johnsonville Big Taste Grill, local grill master Bill Spillman was joined by his sons Robbie and Curtis and trucker driver and traveling grill master Rod Scholz. Scholz, who recently brought the “world’s largest grill” to the Turkey Day Run in Daytona Beach and the ACC Championship Game in Jacksonville said: “We’re somewhere every weekend with this thing. We’re on the road 48 weekends a year.”
While standing in line for beer, the enthusiastic crowd was treated to the sight of the Space Shuttle Discovery lifting into orbit against the silhouette of the old fire station.
Leaving the party with her son Joey asleep in his Radio Flyer wagon, Sally Webber said, “The kids had a blast. It turned out great. We’re from Ohio and they don’t do stuff like this back there.”
Standing in front of the Sanford Wine Company with his friend Lucy McGill, Jay MacPhee compared this year’s party to those of previous years.
“This was probably the best of them all, because it brought out such a cross section of the community,” she said.
Looking around the downtown district he has come to love since moving to Sanford, MacPhee said, “This place is the Coconut Grove of the 1970s. What we have here is perfect in the sense of true community.”