CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s beginning to look like Christmas at the baseball field — well technically, it already does.
The lights are back on at Truist Field in Uptown Charlotte for the Light the Knights and Charlotte Christmas Village events.
In its second year, it would be easy to describe the event as simply family fun and something to do in Uptown, but there’s more to this wintertime experience than meets the eye.
What You Need To Know
The Charlotte Knights invested $150,000 last year to turn Truist Field into dancing light show
Charlotte Christmas Village participants say last year's event helped pay bills, keep lights on
Both Knights and small businesses say they're hopeful event continues yearly
The Charlotte Knights, and business owners participating in the Charlotte Christmas Village, said the event helped keep the lights on last year and are a bright spot in what’s been a tough 21 months.
The event, which launched last year, brought in 30,000 people to the sights and sounds of Truist Field, bedazzled in thousands of twinkling lights. In just the first weekend of the event this year, attendance was around 13,000. The numbers are music to the Knights’ ears.
“It was definitely helpful for us, absolutely, not having a baseball season was certainly tough,” said Tommy Viola, the Knights’ vice president of communications. “We had to be creative.”
In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the Knights needed something to get fans to the ballpark as the minor league season had been canceled and large gatherings were less than ideal.
So, an idea was hatched. The Knights would turn their baseball diamond from home runs to Santa’s home. More than $150,000 later, the Knights had a synchronized music and light show, thousands of lights across the stadium, a home for the Charlotte Christmas Village, Christmas Tree Lane and Snowtastic Winter Wonderland.
“It enabled our full-time staff to continue to work after not having a baseball season. I think it was a positive effect on our bottom line, and it created a new opportunity for a venue in the community during the winter,” the Knights’ Dan Rajkowski explained. “It was profitable and certainly helped us pay some bills, thus that’s why we are continuing to have it again in 2021.”
But the Knights were not the only elves to get a lift from the holiday season, as small businesses felt the Christmas spirit in their pocketbooks.
“It helped me to get through the winter at all, bills piling up and everything like that, it helped. And the people of Charlotte were very gracious and came out and were very generous and helped all of us,” said Seth Towle, while taking a break from his concession stand.
Towle has been working a concession stand at fairs, events and previous Charlotte Christmas Villages for roughly four years.
“I was looking for work and no one wanted to hire me for what I was doing, so I made a job,” Towle said about his launch in the concession industry.
He owns Kool Fun Concessions out of South Carolina, but at the village, it’s all about nuts.
“We cook all the nuts here, all the cinnamon roasted nuts, Bavarian nuts, made with cinnamon, sugar, vanilla and water,” Towle said while giving a tour of his tent at the village.
The event at Truist Field came at the exact right time last year, as Towle said he was struggling to find business.
“Last year was really rough, there was nothing for small businesses. They said they had small business help, but none of it applied to people like me,” Towle said, claiming it was hard to get small business loans since he did not have regular employees.
Due to COVID-19’s impact on the country, Towle said he went from averaging about 40 fairs and festivals a year, including large events like the South Carolina State Fair, to just five in 2020.
“It hurt me economically, in all ways,” Towle said.
The same story was being told across the village.
Tonya Onaduja with Zoul Jewelry said her small jewelry side business had to become her primary breadwinner.
“I got laid off before COVID, and this is my first thing, and I love it. And it’s been really helping me survive and people coming out, re-investing in the community, has helped all of us survive,” Onaduja said about her time at the village last year.
She originally moved to the Charlotte area to be closer to her family and grandchildren. After getting laid off, she turned to her homemade jewelry to make ends meet. Onaduja said if it was not for the Charlotte Christmas Village’s collaboration with the Knights last year, her business would not have made it.
“It did help me, without it — I don’t— it would have been some even leaner times, it was really lean,” Onaduja said about 2020.
This year, both Towle and Onaduja said things are looking brighter, other than the outfield lights, and are hopeful a better New Year is on the way.
“Next year I’m looking forward to a season of opening things up, and people coming out and having a good time again,” Towle said.
And, the Light the Knights and Charlotte Christmas Village events will likely be back with them at Truist Field in 2022. Rajkowski and Viola said the plan is to make it a yearly tradition.
Truist Field will host the village and Light the Knights on select days through the end of the month, including Dec. 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23.