GTPulse: Alleyway Decorations Light Up Central Neighborhood

These miniature light festivals are a Central Neighborhood tradition that everyone gets to enjoy.

I had been mourning not being able to participate in my normal family holiday traditions the other night when I passed by what looked like a miniature Light Festival. As I kept driving I saw another and was delighted to cruise down it and admire all the glowing decorations strung up from top to bottom. Quietly tucked away in a few Traverse City Central Neighborhood alleyways are stunning displays of Christmas decor. While most folks concentrate on decorating the front of their homes for the holidays, these neighborhood locals got to work on the backside of their homes.

“I have to go back to the ‘90s. We’ve got that flat-top roof, well we would go and cut a big tree and put it up there after years and years, it got to be too much for us. So we had all these lights, and our neighbor Louise Dunaway said let’s light the poles. So it just grew from there,” said Linda Lichty.

A large tree would be split between the Lichty’s porch and its roof to create an illusion of the tree growing through it. She and her husband Leon sparked the beloved community tradition with their rooftop tree, and it’s since grown over into two fully decorated alleyways that immerse drivers and pedestrians in a Christmas fantasy land.

“We’ve got such a lovely neighborhood, and when people move in…you gotta do it,” she said with a smile. “It’s word of mouth. In the summertime, we’re all out in the alley and always get to talking with one another.”

On any given evening during the holiday season, you can find a string of cars slow rolling through the decorated alleyways, as well as folks on a stroll. The residents of the alleys expect and welcome spectators.

“Oh, that always happens. You know, we would be outside waving and everything. Five or six years ago we had started an open house. Kids would be running up and down, and we’d build a snow hill over here. People would walk through and we’d have our garages open with food. We would have carolers come through. It was just beautiful.”

The first alleyway that started the tradition is located between 10th and 11th street bordered by Pine and Locust, the second is between 8th and 9th street bordered by Maple and Oak.

“The other alley between Maple and Oak, they really go all out. They outdid themselves this year. They’ve got lifts that go up and everything.”

Steve and Sherry Purkiss contribute to the Maple and Oak alleyway. They go above and beyond by stringing lights high up between light posts. The height of the lights adds festive drama and frames the alley nicely. It’s no easy feat to accomplish.

“Linda started it first, and then I thought, ‘Why not get our alley going?’” said Steve. “It’s just a really cool idea. It takes us three weekends. One to get them out of the garage and make sure they all work, and then two weekends to get everything up. But I borrow a builder friend’s lift to get it up, my neighbor Vince helps me out, Sherry gets the lower lights. We go all out, and especially now. People need a little extra happiness this year,” Steve said.

Vince Cornellier says that Steve and Sherry are like Santa and Mrs. Klaus. He’s the elf dutifully assisting at their side.

“Their garage has been transformed into a North Pole workshop and they have spent countless hours preparing and coordinating the alley transformation into a holiday light show for all,” Vince said.

Mike Haley also decorates each year and even remembers a wedding party taking advantage of the display for a photo opportunity.

“It’s always nice to see all the attention. One year we had a great big old bus that had a wedding party. They all got out and took pictures, it was really fun,” he said.

To make the alleyways even more special this year, the Red Kettle Salvation Army Program has been ringing a bell for donations. Passerby drop in some dollars as they pass by and enjoy the show while the bell rings.

“We did a Saturday and Sunday and had a really nice response with that. It’s nice that it can be a way to give back to the community,” said Steve.

Fellow Central Neighborhood resident and neighbor to the Lichty’s is Mayor Carruthers who participates in the tradition. He’s happy that it’s continued to gain momentum and has become a local tradition that the whole community looks forward to.

“It was great when people started noticing it,” he said. “People drive by, roll down their windows, and tell us that it’s their family tradition to drive down the alley. The older folks’ community comes through on busses. It’s so gray and dark all winter, having the decoration really lights up the night. People have started walking in the evening. They’ll walk down our alley, walk down the 9th Street alley and then walk downtown. This town decorates, so it’s really quite nice that we’ve created a tradition.”

Treat yourself to a charming festival of lights this holiday season. They light up around dusk every evening.

“I think the community is going all out,” Linda said. “I see more decorations each time I’m out and I think it’s because of COVID. We want some light in our lives. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Special thanks to Linda and Leon Lichty, Marilyn Vlach,  Steve and Sherry Purkiss, Vince Cornellier, Mayor Carruthers, Mike Haley, Vince Rice and family, Kathy Borock, and all the others who made the alleyways bright this year.


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Categories: GTPulse