Paul Thorpe, or as he’s often referred to, “Mr. Downtown,” is a man who lives up to his moniker. The former president of the Downtown Association of Sarasota organized the first downtown holiday parade 24 years ago, as a way to bring the community to downtown Sarasota to celebrate the holiday season.
“I wanted to do something for the whole community,” he says. “Something that you didn’t have to have a $250 dinner plate to go to. This is something the whole town can participate in — a miniature Macy’s.”
Since then, the parade has grown into a Sarasota tradition. Each year, thousands of spectators flock to Main Street to get in the holiday spirit. Participants from throughout the county build floats to fit the parade’s theme and compete for one of six trophies, including the coveted Mayor’s Trophy, which is awarded to the overall best float.
Thorpe says the event gets bigger and better each year, with new floats in the commercial, nonprofit, marching and dancing categories. He estimates that this year’s parade, which will make its way down Main Street Saturday, Dec. 1, to Marina Jack, will feature 100 floats, high school bands from all over the county and thousands of spectators. This year’s theme is “Christmas in Paradise,” and among the participants will be city commissioners, local businesses, churches, schools and several hundred Girl Scouts — as Thorpe puts it, “a true community event.”
Of all the months of planning required to organize the parade, Thorpe says the biggest challenge lies in staging the floats and keeping everything moving smoothly, but it’s a challenge he says is well worth it.
“It’s a contribution we make to community to do something fun for everyone that doesn’t cost them anything,” he says. “It’s a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season.”
IF YOU GO
Annual downtown holiday parade takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, on Main Street, in downtown Sarasota.