The story about Frostburg State’s economic impact on the community needs to be told. It’s something that’s said in the community about how FSU benefits the community through spending, but it’s important to show that it’s not just from its employees spending money. The university has many programs it provides and produces for the community, creating sales spurred by tourism. Storybook Holiday is just one of many events that you can see how much FSU helps the area.
Originally published: 12/13/2016
When Storybook Holiday is unwrapped each December in Frostburg, it’s a gift that keeps on giving for downtown businesses.
The event, coordinated by Frostburg State University’s Children’s Literature Centre, completed its 13th year where an event that inspires reading for children also inspires purchases in local shops and brings out a festive spirit from merchants to make the event successful.
“One of the biggest reasons that CLC Director Bill Bingman and I started this was to get people to come and see why we love this town so much,” said Dr. Barbara Ornstein, associate director of the Children’s Literature Centre. “It’s such a great place for kids but we wanted them to see our little shops, good places and great restaurants.”
Main Street Books is one of the busiest businesses during the event, thanks to the literacy theme. Owner Fred Powell says children and their parents flood the store for a solid three hours, buying up children’s books during the day. The day is his second busiest Saturday of the year behind Small Business Saturday.
“This is the benchmark for the holiday season in Frostburg,” Powell said.
More than 2,000 people – about 700 children and their families – show up to the annual celebration that is tied in to a winter-themed book selected by the Children’s Literature Centre, and includes a visit and interaction with the author or illustrator. Powell credits the more than 250 student and alumni volunteers in making the event so large and successful.
“It wouldn’t have happened without all of these people to do it,” Powell added.
Ornstein and Bingman knew that part of the event’s success means getting the kids to go into the stores with their parents, so they developed a bookmark in which participating businesses give out holiday stickers to fill up the bookmark. After five stickers, children can show their bookmarks to Grammy’s Attic, Lorenzo’s Bakery and McFarland Candies to receive a free treat.
“Even if they don’t buy anything then, they go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this existed,’” Ornstein said.
This year, 22 businesses participated as sticker stops and at least 35 businesses donated space or supplies, FrostburgFirst Main Street Manager Jessica Palumbo said.
“It brings a whole new level to the meaning of community that they’re so involved,” said Palumbo, an FSU alumnus.
The day is not just about sales and exposure, as some businesses donate supplies or food or use their space to make the event successful. Armstrong Insurance Agency closes its office for the Saturday event so the building can serve as elf headquarters for the volunteers. FSU Educational Professions instructor Sarah O’Neal coordinates with local elementary schools to decorate storefronts for the season. She has decorated Main Street Books’ storefront for the last 11 years. Volunteer groups make wreaths for the city’s lamp posts, too.
“Thousands of cars drive through here each week, and what a sight to drive through and what a statement to make to have pretty much every business you see as you come through town with their windows decorated,” Palumbo said.
P.S. Hair Designs certainly makes a statement, transforming Peggy Atkinson’s salon into Santa’s House.
Atkinson works up until noon the day before the event, then takes all of her retail products off the shelves and shoves anything that looks like it belongs in a salon into her storage room. All Friday night, her family and friends transform her business into the North Pole. Outside, she has wooden panels painted like Santa’s House, swallowing her storefront.
“I never dreamed when we started this that it would be this magical,” said Atkinson, who goes by Momma Frost during Storybook Holiday. (Her son, Rick Stevenson ’04, volunteered at Storybook Holiday when he was an education major at FSU and has been involved ever since. He has portrayed Jack Frost for many years now.)
Atkinson knows she won’t make a dime on Storybook Holiday, but every smile she sees on kids’ faces is worth it.
“I don’t even do it thinking somebody will come back,” she said. “I do it because we love Storybook Holiday.”
The sparkling atmosphere of Storybook Holiday continues inside City Place, where educational professions majors make snowflakes to hang from the ceiling and other student volunteers acting as Santa’s helpers run activities. Back on Main Street, before the parade begins, students from Mountain City Center for the Arts sing holiday tunes to preview the troupe’s annual Christmastime shows.
“Everywhere you look there’s some reminder that it’s winter and the holidays are coming,” Ornstein said. “Storybook Holiday turns Frostburg into a little winter wonderland.”
Storybook Holiday sponsors also include the city of Frostburg, FrostburgFirst and PNC Bank.
The love for the holiday event is turning into a driver for tourism, too. Dorothea Lay and her daughter Toni Lay, 14, of Bethesda, drove up to Frostburg with Toni’s childhood friend Meredith Blanchard, 13, who came from Connecticut. Toni remembered how much she loved the event when they were 5 years old and invited her friend Meredith to help celebrate Toni’s 14th birthday.
“Everyone in Frostburg is so into it, which I love,” Toni said.
The girls fully embraced Storybook Holiday by dressing as elves, helping to hand out bookmarks while walking in the parade and winning the people’s choice award for their lemon bar cookies (dubbed “So a Lemon Walked Into a Bar”) in the cookie contest.
As much as Meredith and Toni enjoyed the event, they got a bigger thrill making the littler kids smile at their elf outfits.
“One little kid came up to me and asked me if I was a real elf,” Toni said. “It was fun seeing all the little kids be so excited about everything.”
It was as if they were keeping an eye on all the little ones for Santa.
“If you gave them a wink, they whispered to their parents, ‘Oh my gosh, the elves just winked at me!’” Meredith said. “It was pretty neat to see them do what I would have done when I was really little.”
Part of why Meredith and Toni could still enjoy Storybook Holiday is because the event has grown to a full-day festival that’s great for all ages. Powell is encouraged by the buy-in of everyone involved with Storybook Holiday, seeing it grow from an event attended by a hundred people to well over 2,000.
“Everybody’s been touched by some sort of success by it,” Powell said. “If nothing else, it just makes you feel good.”
For more information about the Children’s Literature Centre, call 301-687-3133 or visit www.frostburg.edu/clc.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.