Time magazine has called Frankenmuth one of the “Most Christmassy Towns in America,” and later this month some Frankenmuth folks take the show on the road – to help brighten the neighboring city of Vassar.
In a December 2015 article in The Advertiser, Vassar City Councilman Dan Surgent called Vassar “so drab” when it came to holiday decorations.
The situation caught the attention of Steve Cook, owner of the Cook GM Super Store in Vassar, and Mike Young, a Frankenmuth auto dealer who owns several properties in downtown Vassar. They’re among various merchants trying restore a twinkle to the holiday season in Vassar, a city of 2,450 people in Tuscola County.
“Last year that article said how poorly the town’s decorated, and I hopped right in my car the next day and went out there, and the article was right – it was poorly decorated,” said Young, of Saginaw County’s Frankenmuth Township and owner of Mike Young Buick GMC in Frankenmuth.
“I saw garland on one pole, and it was hanging there,” Young said.
Young owns a vacant two-story building in downtown Vassar on the corner of North Main Street and Huron Avenue, which is M-15. He has hired workers from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth to beautify that building with holiday lights this month.
“When you see that, you’ll think we’re Bronner’s coming to town – it’s going to be nicely decorated,” Young said.
Cook, owner of Cook GM Super Store in Vassar, plans for a striking display of holiday lights and decorations in front of his dealership along M-15, and also at the Cook Budget Lot that he operates along M-15 at Division Street.
Since Surgent asked Vassar city leaders almost one year ago if they could do something to make the Christmas season prettier, seven new businesses have opened downtown in a one-block stretch of M-15 between Cass Avenue and Main Street.
“It is kind of good timing now that we’ve seen that burst of business downtown,” Cook said. “I’ll bet the town will look sharp when they get it all decorated, and those new businesses will appreciate it.”
Some Vassarites work in Frankenmuth, population 4,898 and home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, The Old Christmas Station Restaurant and the Silent Night Memorial Chapel. In fact, “Christmas Lane at Bronner’s is illuminated 365 days a year with over 50,000 strings of lights,” according to www.frankenmuth.org.
Vassar City Manager Brian Chapman figures the efforts of a number of Vassar merchants could inspire homeowners and other business owners to install holiday lights or decorations.
“You’ve got Steve (Cook) and Mike (Young), which is great,” Chapman said. “The city also bought some new decorations to put on our light poles. They were a little bit pricier than what I had anticipated, and we found a really good deal, but we were still limited as to how much we could buy.
“It’s great to have property owners contribute to it as well, though, and I’m expecting a good number of property owners to add to the overall look by decorating their own businesses.”
Young said he wants to decorate his properties in Vassar “because of those new restaurants there, and to make it a little more festive for them.”
Merchants plan to turn on their holiday light displays Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving. Chapman said he’s impressed with the city’s new decorations for its light poles.
“They look really sharp,” Chapman said, “but to get the good stuff, they’re expensive, so we did what we could afford.”
In 2011, Time named Frankenmuth one of “The 9 Most Christmassy Towns in America.”
Cook said he heard a suggestion at a recent civic meeting from someone wanting to string holiday lights in Vassar across M-15 – and above the cars below – by running strings of lights from the roof of one building to the roof of another building across the street.
“I thought that was a good idea,” Cook said. “You’d have to get state Department of Transportation permission, but they’re high enough that there’s not going to be an issue with a truck.”
Young said he knows of about six Vassar business owners who plan to decorate their buildings to improve the look of Vassar for Christmas.
Chapman said that instead of lighting Christmas trees in front of Vassar City Hall like civic leaders did last year, lights will be placed on Christmas trees brought to Veteran Plaza along M-15 in the heart of the city’s downtown area.
“You’re going to have three nice Christmas trees downtown with lights,” Chapman said. “A lot of small pieces are coming together that are kind of having a bigger impact this year.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org