2018 Christmas Sing

Hundreds of people gather in downtown Sonora's Courthouse Square for the 39th annual Pop Hudson Memorial Christmas Sing in December 2018.

The Sonora Chamber of Commerce is seeking to turn the city’s downtown area into one of the most popular Christmas season destinations in the country with festive decorations and the installation of an artificial ice rink in Coffill Park. 

"There's hidden gems across our country,” said Katie Dunn, president of the chamber’s board. “Downtown Sonora can easily fit right in."

The project was billed as still in its nascent stages at an informational meeting about the plans on Wednesday, with Dunn estimating between $35,000 to $45,000 in fundraising over multiple years will be needed to bring it to fruition.

“We have not pulled the trigger on any of this,” she said. “If we don’t make our fundraising goal this year, there’s still a lot of things we can do with the money we can raise.”

The plan called for the downtown area to be adorned with lights, garlands and ribbons on the outside of businesses and on light poles, leading to the focal point of the Red Church on the north end of downtown. 

The plan would also continue a Santa’s Village in Courthouse Square with a mailbox for children to leave letters for Santa, which would be read on community radio station KAAD. 

Courthouse Square would also be called “Christmas Tree Lane,” with local nonprofit organizations invited to decorate their own tree.

“Visitors and locals alike can meander through Courthouse (Square) taking in the beautifully decorated trees and create photographic memories to share,” a news release about the prospective idea said.

But it was the plan’s proposed artificial ice rink in Coffill Park, pieced together by tiles and purchased or rented from a company, that Dunn said has “received the most buzz”.

The rink would be 16 feet by 30 feet and would not need power or water. It would include 50 pairs of skates, a skate rack, skate sharpener and matting. They would plan to sell hot beverages during the skating and charge a $5 fee for skating and skate rental. 

Dunn said there would likely be a surveillance camera on the rink at all times, which would be tarped and secured when the skating was not in session. She also recommended that the rink be purchased outright as a cost-saving measure and so it could be used over multiple years. 

The ice rink is estimated to cost about $25,000.

"We really want to make this a family friendly ice rink," Dunn said. 

The chamber hosted two meetings about its plan over Zoom, one on Tuesday night and another on Wednesday morning. The meeting Wednesday morning was attended by three business owners, including Shanna Huber from Fittin' Pretty Bras and Boutique. 

Dunn said the chamber will measure interest from downtown merchants and disseminate the ideas to them. 

“Our goal for Christmas Town Sonora is to be considered one of the top 10 Christmas towns nationally,” Dunn said. “This isn't going to be an overnight thing, this is something we're gonna build on year after year.”

The Christmas Town Sonora Committee includes Dunn, Huber, Sarah Gordon from Addictions, Jennie Jamie from Century 21, Margott Weltin from Weltin Design, Jen Lopez from Visit Tuolumne County, and Ann Segerstrom, a city councilwoman who is on the committee in a citizen capacity. 

Dunn provided a list of the 10 “most festive Christmas towns” in the country: Stockbridge, Massachusetts; Big Spring, Texas; Leavenworth, Washington; Ashville, North Carolina; Williamsburg, Virginia; North Pole, Alaska; St. Augustine, Florida; Durango, Florida; Woodstock, Vermont; and Natchitoches, Louisiana. 

Dunn said Solvang in California was considered a top Christmas town as well, though it hadn’t been recognized in any official publications. 

The chamber has set up a website called ChristmastownSonora.org to begin the grassroots fundraising effort. The chamber said they will match donations dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000. 

The chamber also noted they are seeking volunteers for decorating and running the rink, and that they plan to hire a professional lighting company to decorate the town. 

Some merchants present at the meeting said they supported the plan, though they expressed some reservations about the use of Courthouse Square (which is owned by the county) and questioned whether all downtown businesses would participate. 

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.

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