The Ellis Square Merchants Association formed in the wake of the massive demolition and construction project adjacent to City Market which aims to restore one of Savannah’s original “lost squares.” With hundreds of nearby parking spaces eliminated overnight, and foot traffic impeded, a few business owners in the immediate vicinity banded together in 2006 to collectively promote their unique offerings.
Last December’s inaugural Silent Auction to benefit the Backus Childrens Hospital saw the organization welcome over 40 merchants in the general vicinity of Barnard and Broughton Streets into their fold for an innovative (if logistically daunting) charitable promotion: an ambitious, family-oriented strolling, shopping and dining experience featuring live outdoor entertainment from a local jazz quartet — with all proceeds going to a worthy local cause.
This year, the group (which has grown to include over 50 merchants) has thrown caution to the wind, increased the scope and length of the event, added more live music, and set their fiscal goals higher.
“We have the full Equinox Jazz Orchestra, songwriter Lauren Lapointe, The Asbury Handbell Choir, the First African Baptist Choir and Memorial’s Feel Better Singers,” says association President Michael Meeks. “It’s now an all-day event, so people have time to bid on everything as well as kick back and enjoy the music.”
Since it is also “1st Saturday” on River St., and the staging area and kick-off for this event doubles as the finish line for the city’s Christmas Parade, Meeks views this benefit as “the grand finale of them all.”
“Last year, we raised $6,000 — every penny of that for Backus,” Meeks says, adding: “We’d like to raise $10,000 this year.”
As folks stroll from shop to shop, investigating the thousands of dollars worth of items and services up for bids (and hopefully doing some holiday gift shopping as well!), they are encouraged to relax.
“We’re blocking traffic from Barnard to Bryan and from Jefferson to Whitaker,” explains Meeks. “We’ll have tables and chairs set up in the streets like a European-styled gathering. People can get take-out from nearby restaurants and eat outdoors while listening to the live music.”
Meeks admits there are no contingency plans in the event of inclement weather. “We can’t repeat it. It’s rain or shine. We just keep praying for a nice day!”
Local celebrity Paula Deen’s sons Bobby and Jamie will be on hand after their stint as Grand Marshals in the Christmas Parade, as will Santa himself.
Meeks notes that kids are encouraged to bring any stamped letters for Santa (which seems a little odd because, after all, he’s gonna be right there), as the Savannah Arts Academy is overseeing their delivery to the Post Office. Sat., noon-9 pm, Barnard St. between Broughton and Congress.
Last year was the first time that area pop-rock band Liquid Ginger had thrown an outdoor benefit for a local person in need, and to call the weather uncooperative would itself be charitable.
“It was 50 degrees and pouring rain,” recalls vocalist and organizer Ginger Fawcett. “But, we sold out of chili and raised $7,000! This year it’s supposed to be sunny and 70, so we hope for much more.”
The recipient of all this goodwill? 39-year-old JCB employee David Sisk, who travels to the Mayo Clinic for treatment for primary pulmonary hypertension and may face heart and lung transplants.
It’s free to listen to the music by mainstream local acts like LG, young reggae-influenced soul singer/guitarist Tubby Love, southern rock and country band Hazzard County (feat. the Courtenay Bros.), acoustic roots-rockers Two Path Road, as well as the slick, Greenville, S.C. modern rock/hip-hop trio EPDMK.
The 501C-3 nonprofit roganization generates money from the 12 flag football teams registering to compete and the restaurants in the Chili Cook-Off, as well as from sales of hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers and fries, plus drinks (Budweiser and Coke products) — all donated by Kroger, Spanky’s, Roger Wood and the beverage distributors.
There will also be a raffle for tons of prizes, T-shirts, face painting for kids, etc...
“One thing I love about Savannah,” says Fawcett, “is how giving people are.”
“There are so many worthwhile events going on that day downtown. We’re all in this together, and if people tire of one event, they can move on to the next.” Sat., 11 am-6 pm, Forsyth Park.
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