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Making Christmas Magical
in Downtown Jonesboro

by Cody Moore, Photos by Kayla Broadway

Downtown Jonesboro Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes Downtown Jonesboro as the place to eat, shop and live, will host its second annual downtown holiday event, JoyFest, beginning this month. The seasonal event will offer an array of festive activities that will continue throughout December.

Lindsey Wingo, executive director of Downtown Jonesboro Alliance (DJA), has served in her position for the past three years. Wingo accepted the position directly after graduating from Arkansas State University with a degree in public relations in 2017.

"It has been such a fast and fun three years," said Wingo. "I believe that a vibrant downtown is truly imperative to creating a successful community, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our community through my position, especially when I'm so personally passionate about the work I get to do."

Since becoming executive director of DJA, Wingo has fully rebranded the nonprofit from an association to an alliance, emphasizing the organization's collaborative efforts with other local businesses in order to improve the downtown area.

"With this rebrand, we created a new logo, produced a new promotional video and launched a new website that has collectively energized Downtown Jonesboro's appeal," she said. "We have also created a new partnership program with our downtown and community investors. Because of this, we have provided interior and exterior grants for our downtown businesses and, most recently, awarded over $5,000 of City Water & Light credits to our downtown partners in relief of COVID-19."

Wingo has also introduced a new lighting initiative, which has added thousands of dollars in high-quality illumination to Downtown Jonesboro that not only enhances safety, but also adds visual excitement and a dazzling aesthetic.

"I'd like to stress that none of our exciting initiatives would be possible without our supportive, committed DJA board," said Wingo. "I work closely with our board, and together we have achieved a lot since I became executive director."

In addition to new initiatives and programs, DJA has also introduced several new and exciting downtown events in recent years.

"We have added new events which include The Main Event Luncheon, Arkansas State Welcome Week Block Party, Oasis Arts Festival, Yoga with a Twist, residential mixers, poetry slams and now JoyFest," said Wingo.

Introduced to the public just last year, DJA's JoyFest was created in order to bring the holiday spirit to the streets of Downtown Jonesboro for all of the community to enjoy.

"JoyFest is a community event in the heart of our city that provides holiday fun for all ages," said Wingo. "It's everything Christmas and then some, all within easy walking distances of downtown."

Though Wingo has always wanted to host a holiday-themed event downtown, it wasn't until she received a phone call from Jonesboro resident Sarah Rickert that the evolving idea started to become a reality.

"For years I have been talking to my husband and family about this idea to create a Hallmark-esque event downtown," said Rickert, who serves as a volunteer for DJA. "Having been an event planner for years, including when I lived and worked in Nashville, my husband encouraged me to go for it."

"So, last year, I called Lindsey and asked to meet with her to share my idea for a special Christmas family celebration," said Rickert. "We decided to test the waters last year and see what kind of interest would be shown, and we quickly discovered how excited people were at the concept."

"Sarah has such a heart for this event," said Wingo. "It takes an enormous amount of coordination to plan a complex event like JoyFest, and she has spent countless hours helping ensure that everything runs smoothly. I am so appreciative of the work she has put into this event and the vision that we share."

This year's JoyFest will commence on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. with a live holiday-themed Broadway concert presented by The Link Theatre Company; the concert will feature Matt and Jenny Cavenaugh, along with other local talent. At 5:30 p.m., a 64-foot Christmas tree provided by Ritter Communications will be lit while Cory Jackson performs an acoustic set sponsored by Hytrol Conveyor Company on a stage provided by Nabholz. A socially-distant photo opportunity with Santa Claus will also be available at the Century 21 Santa Station.

Shopping at the Barton's Christmas Village, a designated area with an array of holiday vendors sponsored by St. Bernards Medical Center, will be located on Monroe Avenue. A living nativity scene, a performance from The Foundation of Arts and a screening of the holiday classic "White Christmas" will take place at Rotary Club of Jonesboro Centennial Plaza located in front of The Forum Theatre on the evening of Dec. 5, as well.

"Not only is this year's JoyFest literally bigger and brighter, but we're also offering several new month-long attractions that will kick off on opening night," said Wingo. "We have partnered with the city to add to the month-long ice-skating rink and are now providing a Centennial Bank Carousel, DJA Ferris Wheel, mini train rides and horse and carriage rides to keep the Christmas spirit alive all through December."

Those month-long attractions will operate on Dec. 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19 during the Wonderland Rink's hours; Thursday from 4-9 p.m., Friday from 4-10 p.m. and Saturday from 1-10 p.m. For a detailed list of all hours and ticket prices for each attraction, find Downtown Jonesboro Alliance on Facebook.

"Working with Lindsey has been fantastic," said Rickert. "I quickly found a kindred spirit in her and appreciate how dependable she is and how much she cares. I love that when I throw out a crazy idea, like having a Ferris wheel, she doesn't seem annoyed with me but excited to work together to see what we can make happen."

"I am so excited about all of our new attractions this year, and there really is something for just about everybody who likes Christmas and good cheer," said Wingo.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, DJA is enforcing masks and social distancing during opening night of JoyFest, as well as during the operation of each month-long attraction.

"Safety for visitors and attendees is a prime concern for both DJA and the City of Jonesboro," said Wingo. "We are following all state and CDC guidelines, and masks and social distancing will be required."

DJA is also offering a live stream option of JoyFest's Dec. 5 festivities via Tubetown, Ritter Communications' local content channel, allowing those who don't want to attend in person an opportunity to enjoy the Christmas cheer from the comfort of their own homes.

"Throughout all of the uncertainty and heartache this year, we have watched our community come together in such a time of need," said Wingo. "We are excited for our community to unite one last time to reflect on the year, enjoy the holidays and put our hope in the new year that is to come."

"We hope that JoyFest is something that will bring some much-needed happiness, especially after such an interesting year, to our community," added Rickert. "Christmas is such a special time for many of us because of our faith, family and friends. It's important because we celebrate Christ's birth, we make time for family and we look for opportunities to be giving and generous. I really hope this event brings us back to all of these things that make this season so special."

Downtown Jonesboro Alliance's JoyFest opening will take place on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. across from United Way of Northeast Arkansas, located at 407 Union St. For more information on JoyFest or for any questions regarding the month-long attractions, find Downtown Jonesboro Alliance on Facebook and Instagram or call DJA at (870) 919-6176.

Downtown Jonesboro Decorating Contest

In an effort to help bring as much joy and light as possible to downtown this holiday season, Occasions Publishing Group will sponsor its first Downtown Jonesboro Decorating Contest this month.

“As the Downtown Jonesboro Alliance (DJA) continues its effort to bring more visitors to Downtown Jonesboro during the holidays with JoyFest, we want to help encourage downtown businesses to decorate their storefronts,” said Audrey Poff, president of Occasions Publishing Group. “Before the existence of malls and big box stores, downtown storefronts were decorated in a way that attracted visitors during the holidays. We want to help make downtown a festive place for people to enjoy this year.”

In addition to trophies, this year’s winners will receive $3,000 in advertising credit from Occasions Publishing Group to be divided among the top three finishers.

”It’s been a challenging year for most people,” said Poff. “People in the downtown community have a big heart. If they can help make Christmas a little more magical for others, I think they will rise up to the challenge.”

Winners will be featured in the January issue of Jonesboro Occasions. For more information on the Downtown Jonesboro Decorating Contest, contact the Occasions office at (870) 931-0012 or Lindsey Wingo, DJA executive director, at (870) 919-6176.