Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More than Fireworks Hailing O'er Little Eden

Sunday evening's Fireworks Show in its triumphant return to downtown Norwich capped a nearly perfect weekend of weather, activities and events for The Rose City and was both a souvenir postcard of what many older Norwich residents have meant when they talk about the Glory Days and snapshot of tomorrow for what many newer residents have in mind when they speak of home.

Congratulations and thank you to the nearly countless number of helping hands, local businesses, City and private sector employees, residents and so many others who rolled up sleeves, sold gift cards, solicited donations, offered to help do one of the dozens if not hundreds of thankless tasks all of which needed doing long before the first firework was launched from the barge.

The general rule is the easier it looks the harder everyone had to work and Sunday night's show looked as easy as proverbial pie. Speaking of which, there was pie and just about anything else your palette might crave as part of the earlier-in-the-evening menu of events and activities. And that was no accident, either.

This year's fireworks extravaganza, shifted from Friday night's rainy skies, was intended to be a memorable advertisement and celebration of a slowly awakening downtown district, Chelsea and beyond. It was an opportunity, really, to flex a few organizational muscles and show off for a variety of publics what downtown has, and what it can be.

The fireworks added a critical element, the feet in the street so many in recent years, associated with community and economic development, speak of when they describe reaching critical mass and creating events that incite and invite large and diverse groups to share a venue.

In years past, while every available square foot of downtown filled with folding chairs and families, businesses were dark and shuttered because no one wanted to compete with a heaven-filled with pyrotechnics. So we had about the population of the entire city, thirty-five to forty thousand people, jammed and crammed into a few square blocks for congenial chaos and by ten in the evening, everyone was gone and the cleanup could start. Lather, rinse and repeat.

Sunday night, downtown's celebration of itself started much earlier with picnics, barbecues and tastings that stretched from Howard T. Brown Park through parts of the downtown district to include newer establishments you've passed but have never sampled because they know you never get a second chance to make a good first impression and a good first impression is everything.

With fireworks as the candle's flame to attract so many, and so many different, people how could Sunday night not have been a rousing success both as a one time event and as the tone setter for what all of us now know we can do and be? It wasn't just Norwich residents taking in the show and grabbing a plate of pulled pork and all the fixings, it was also neighbors from near and far and even friends we hadn't yet met.

Downtown has always been one of those chicken and egg situations. You can't attract enough people to downtown to make a positive business impact because the conventional wisdom said there was nothing downtown to draw them. And who would want to open a business lacking a steady stream of income and a reliable flow of customers? Stalemate became status quo which became the history of how bad things always seem to happen to good businesses.

Slowly, maybe too slowly for some of us, especially the dweeb who rants and writes on Wednesdays, we're starting to pick up every stitch. There's a waterfront farmer's market on Wednesdays (as in today) all summer, and live concerts as well (tonight) in Brown Park and meanwhile just a short walk away, there are exhibits at the Norwich Arts Council and entertainment at the Spirit of Broadway Theater with a dozen different restaurants and pubs with a couple of artisan shops sprinkled in between and among them.

Sunday's fireworks were bright and loud--not as bright as the future we can have for all of Norwich, a village and a neighborhood at a time, if we so choose (and choose wisely and well) while being loud enough to assauge the fears of failure we have every time something and someone new comes along.

The biggest bang Sunday night came from each succeeding firework being stacked on top of the next always building to a bigger and better crescendo and finish that contained within itself the next new beginning. Just like the downtown it illuminated and celebrated.
-bill kenny

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