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Charlotte's Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade Continues Transformation

Charlotte’s Novant Health Thanksgiving Day Parade will kick off 9 a.m. Thursday in uptown.  The 71st annual parade will feature giant balloons, 13 marching bands and 17 floats – including one to celebrate Charlotte’s 250th anniversary as a city.  The parade is produced by Charlotte Center City Partners, which took over when the parade was in jeopardy of folding in 2013.

Their Communications Director Adam Rhew joined All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey to discuss the history of Charlotte’s Thanksgiving Parade and what has, and hasn’t, changed over the years.

Adam Rhew: The parade started as an attempt by the merchants association in Center City to bring people uptown to shop and to spend money. In some ways, that mission is much the same. We believe that this parade is a great way to animate and activate our Center City and introduce people who may not be familiar with uptown to everything that uptown has to offer.

Certainly, the biggest thing that has changed over the course of that 71 years is uptown itself. It's a very different downtown area than what we had 71 years ago.

Mark Rumsey: For those who are getting out bright and early on Thanksgiving morning to come uptown and see this parade, what do you think gets them out of bed and downtown to watch this event?

Rhew: I think certainly it's the excitement of the marching bands and the floats and the big balloons and all of that, for families with children it’s a great way to really kick start the holiday season. But I think for lots of families what we hear is that there's a tradition. People have been going to this parade for years. They remember going when they were a child. That's the case for me. I was in this parade as a kid, rode on a couple of floats as a child, and so this is a longstanding tradition for families who have been around this area for a while, that this is part of their Thanksgiving Day.

Rumsey: And where does Charlotte's parade rank in terms of Thanksgiving parades around the country?

Rhew: This is the largest parade in the southeast and the fourth largest in the nation.

Rumsey: And that's based on attendance?

Rhew: And we are only behind obviously New York the big Macy's parade but also Philadelphia and Detroit.

Rumsey: Why would Charlotte have such a strong interest in a Thanksgiving parade?

Rhew: This is again a tradition that is long rooted and so there are families who have lots of sentimentality attached to this parade and I think that the longevity of the parade just lends itself to becoming a bigger and bigger force with time.

Rumsey: And Adam I know over the years the Thanksgiving parade in Charlotte has had some ups and downs in terms of the level of support and the ability to stage an event of this magnitude. Several years ago it almost didn't get off the ground one year is that right?

Rhew: Yeah that's right. In 2013, we sort of heard a call for help from the organizers of the parade that they didn't believe that they had the financial resources to survive in the future and that this tradition may go away. And, certainly, that was a great concern to lots of people in the community. Given the longevity of this parade and the importance of it to the community and so that's when Novant Health stepped in and agreed to be the title sponsor providing some financial assistance.

Then Center City Partners came in to do some of the logistics work, the production work to make sure that the parade happened. We didn't want this tradition to be lost and that was really important to all of us involved to be able to save the parade and to be able to keep this tradition going for another generation.

Rumsey: And as we've said some things have changed or evolved about the parade over the years folks who've been around for a while may remember the Carousel Queen aspect of the parade that was there for a long time and that's not part of the event anymore. Correct?

Rhew: That's correct. That was a tradition that we made the decision to end as the parade sort of changed hands and started to evolve into a new organization. That was a tradition that we decided to let go and it was a difficult decision, but one that we believed was important for the parade’s success and longevity for the future and we know lots of people loved that tradition. We've sort of thought carefully about how to honor that tradition. But it was one that we decided to let go.

Rumsey: Adam Rue, director of communications for Charlotte Center City partners talking about the 2018 Charlotte Thanksgiving Day Parade. Thanks, Adam.

Rhew: Thanks for having me.