Cold hands, warm feelings at Cambria Hospitality Night

Food, song, Santa, shopping highlight Hospitality Night; mixed reactions to move to Friday from Thursday night

ktanner@thetribunenews.comDecember 12, 2013 

The warmth of the season and the joy of sharing it with old friends fended off the chill Friday, Dec. 6, as hundreds of people roamed through Cambria on Hospitality Night.

Chilly it was. The thermometer dipped to 27.8 degrees at about 7 a.m. that morning, according to the thermometer at Whispering Pines Bed & Breakfast on Lodge Hill, and hovered just over 40 during the evening event. Raindrops started to fall after 9 p.m.

Overlooking East Village, the lavishly bedecked grounds of the Cambria Pines Lodge sparkled with thousands of holiday lights, including Cambria Christmas Market festivities with its rainbow-colored tunnel of lights and Cal Poly’s “12 Days of Christmas.”

Knots of people gathered throughout East Village and in some areas of West Village, where attendance was lighter than in previous years, according to Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the yearly open house for local businesses and nonprofits.

Without looking at the calendar, there was no way to tell it was Friday night, rather than Thursday as in all previous Hospitality Nights. Some, like Cambrian Martha Goodwin, said they wound up liking the new night “because I didn’t have to worry about going to work the next day ... We had a blast” and did some shopping in the process.

There was “no decrease in the crowds, who were happy and festive, and enjoying going from place to place in East Village,” according to Consuelo Macedo of the Cambria Historical Society, who helped out at the Cambria Historical Museum. “We served up all our taffy popcorn balls and hot cider to grateful families.”

But the change in day irked some locals, some of whom decided not to attend or couldn’t because of previous commitments, according to comments made on social media, in emails and in interviews.

Some said they had to choose between Hospitality Night and the annual Christmas parade in San Luis Obispo. Others said they felt the change of day was made to attract more tourists, but was an inconvenience for locals with other plans for the evening, including holiday parties that, this year, are jammed into three December weekends.

Some nonprofits and businesses did quite well, despite the cold and date change.

4-H members and parents served about 700 do-it-yourself s’mores in front of Among Friends, according to leader CeCe Lomeli. “There were so many people. It started to sprinkle a little, but as soon as it let up, we got bombed again with crowds. It didn’t let up. People from out of town told us ‘This is just so cool’ and we’d tell them ‘Thank you for coming to Cambria.’ Some older people had never had a s’more before, or hadn’t had one since they were little. They’re excited and all gooey and saying, ‘This is sooooo good.’”

A soup benefit sold out, according to organ-izer/school art teacher Suzette Milam-Morrow. Donors bought 75 hand-made bowls (giving a $20 gift to the Local Food Bank) and then volunteers filled the bowls with nice hot soup from Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill.

Crowds gathered at the museum to see Santa and Mrs. Claus in the historic home’s festively decorated parlor.

“We had a really nice steady crowd,” said Penny Church of the Cambria Historical Society, especially parents wanting free pictures of their children with the Claus couple.

The event “seemed to make a lot of people aware of the museum,” Church said. She said Friday “seems like a better night … kind of mixes the hometown people with visitors.”

But just across Center Street, turnout was terrible, said Claudia Alexander of Alexander-Denny Jewelry Studio on Burton Drive, who reports the shop is usually “jam packed” on Hospitality Night. She called the Friday date “a giant waste of time. Very disappointed and so were many, many of the people I have spoken with. I always thought of it as a way to thank our loyal local friends and neighbors that have shown support throughout the year … I know things can’t always remain the same, but there is something about the tradition that was sorely lacking.”

About a block away, chamber board member Steve Kniffen was among Sons of American Legion Post No. 432 members manning a grill full of hot dogs in the parking lot of French Corner Bakery. The booth is always a popular Hospitality Night site, but the crowds weren’t as early or as large as usual, he estimated. Kniffen said he was among those who had pushed to change the date to Fridays, but he now believes that may have been a mistake.

“I’ll take the hit for the change, but it didn’t work. It certainly didn’t have that same Cambria feeling that it normally does. We were hoping to get more customers for our chamber constituents, the businesses. But if that didn’t happen, let’s just go back to Thursday.”

“It was something we tried to help the retail businesses,” Carson said, “but (the chamber) certainly wouldn’t want to make anybody unhappy.”

Some felt the Cambria Christmas Market at the lodge pulled people away from Hospitality Night festivities, especially in West Village, where traffic was down last year, too, during the market’s premiere run.

The market, open 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays through Dec. 22, includes a couple dozen decorated booths manned by local businesses and nonprofits, set up between the old pool building and new pool. The market is surrounded by the twinkling lights and fairyland setting on the grounds of the lodge and Cambria Nursery.

Food, wine, music and shopping are featured. Santa is in his house from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Bram Winter, general manager of the lodge, said Tuesday, Dec. 11, that attendance has been very good. He estimated that an average of about 1,000 adults a night had paid to get in, and kids 12 and under are admitted free. He said there were approximately 2,000 there on the first night, Friday, Nov. 29.

Admission is $4, but attendees receive $4 worth of “SantaDoe” tokens to spend at vendor booths that participate in that program.

“It’s been wildly successful,” said market Manager George Marschall. “It’s very good, loved by everybody. That’s a good, heartwarming feeling.”

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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