Wait is almost over for Fantasy in Lights parade

WHEELING — It won’t be difficult finding Santa Claus in the annual Perkins Restaurant & Bakery Fantasy in Lights Parade on Friday evening in downtown Wheeling. He’s the guy in the red velvet suit and white beard, riding on a sleigh.

But there’s another Santa of sorts — in a business suit — who, years ago, saved the parade from possible extinction and whose business remains the title sponsor of the event. Frank Carolla, who owns and operates Perkins Restaurant & Bakery in the Ohio Valley, stepped up to keep the parade afloat at a time when the valley was experiencing a downturn in the economy.

Ten years ago, Terry Sterling, former president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, approached Carolla with concerns about the future of the parade.

“They were about ready to cancel the parade. Terry said, ‘I need your help.’ I love the parade, and so we stepped up and took on the title sponsorship,” Carolla said. “It’s a great thing for Wheeling, for the businesses and the families who come to town. Last year, there were 50,000 people in Wheeling. It was a great day.”

In addition to his company’s financial support for the parade, Carolla said the Perkins staff works to prepare cookies and hot chocolate to hand out to early visitors to the parade grounds. He credits his vice president, Tim Presseller, with keeping things running smoothly as parade day approaches.

This year’s holiday parade gets underway on Market Street near the campus of West Virginia Northern Community College. Carolla said the college has gotten involved in the parade preparations in a big way. The college square has been decked out in holiday finery including a large, decorated Christmas tree.

Also, this year, the bleacher seating and television broadcasting equipment will be located near the college rather than farther north on Market Street. The new location also will play host to the VIP tent for parade sponsors and celebrities, with food catered by Perkins.

Carolla will be in the parade as grand marshal. Also being honored are local teachers of the year and motivational speaker Elec Simon.

Carolla said he mostly remains in the background of the parade planning, but isn’t afraid to offer input. He said city officials have had only positive comments about the parade and Perkins’ contributions to the community.

Meanwhile, the Wheeling Police Department reminds the public that it will close the following roads on Friday for the parade:

∫ The Centre Market area will close at 4 p.m. This includes Market Street from 20th to 23rd streets. However, 22nd Street will remain open for those wishing to dine in the area.

∫ Market Street from 10th to 20th streets will close shortly after 5 p.m.

∫ Main Street from 10th to 23rd streets will close at 6:30 p.m. Also, 10th Street will remain one-way during the parade to alleviate and divert traffic congestion.

After 6:30 p.m. on Friday, anyone parked on the numbered streets between Main and Market streets in the parade area will not be permitted to leave until the event is over around 8 p.m. Parking meters will be bagged with street closure information during the day Friday, but parking will still be allowed in these areas until 5 p.m.

Any vehicle parked on the parade route during the posted times will be towed beginning at 5 p.m.

The public is urged to arrive early for the parade and be mindful of the influx of pedestrians and vehicles in downtown. The Wheeling Police Department will have officers stationed at a number of intersections to direct traffic on foot, on bicycle and in patrol cars.

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