South Park’s holiday events beckon

The unique neighborhood offers shoppers an alternative

Morgan M. Hurley | Contributing Editor

For the second year in a row, the South Park Business Group (SPBG) plans to turn their unique business district into a holiday shopper’s paradise with two events that they hope will bring local residents and others from around the county out of their homes and into the neighborhood for food, festivities and fun.

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(l to r) Christy Jaynes (Progress); Andrea Frank (Realtor); Council President Todd Gloria; Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins; Jeffrey Parish (Junc.Life); and Donna Walker (South Bark Dog Wash) at last year’s inaugural Luminaria kickoff. (Photo by Luci Dumas Fine Photography)

Luminaria festivities begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 30, with music from the San Diego Mandolin Orchestra, a group that will also perform during SPBG’s annual Holiday Walkabout, held this year on Dec. 6.

“Last year it was very well attended, much to everyone’s surprise, so this year we are actually amping it up a little bit,” said Lisa Vella, co-owner of South Bark Dog Wash and an organizer of the event.

Complimentary snacks from The Big Kitchen and Café Madeleine’s — along with hot chocolate from Rebecca’s Coffee House and Captain Kirk’s Coffee — will greet Luminaria attendees while they mingle and listen to the live music. The family-friendly community event will also include photo ops with Santa, a kid’s craft table, and more.

Though last year’s inaugural Luminaria included a holiday lights contest for residents along the business district, the SPBG has moved that aspect to “the back-burner” as initial participation was not as high as they’d hoped.


The custom-built Luminaria Tree. (Photo by Bonnie Nichols)

“We’d love to make it work but all of us are full-time business owners and we can’t really devote that much time, especially this time of year,” said SPBG Board President Maureen Ceccarelli.

Council President Todd Gloria will be on hand again to kick off the Luminaria season, which runs through the end of the year, as both the keynote speaker and celebratory “lighter” of the annual South Park Luminaria Tree.

The tree — a custom, reusable “tree” crafted by local artisan Todd Williams — is the focal point of Luminaria season. It will be mounted in Grape Street Square, an area located on the south side of Grape Street where it intersects with 30th Street that is considered the center of the district.

Made with reclaimed materials — except for the nuts and bolts that helped piece it together — the tree was designed by Williams inside Alchemy with the culture of South Park in mind.

Along with the tree, the bulk of South Park’s business district will also be alight with holiday splendor along 30th Street between Grape and Kalmia streets, and again in the lower business district along Beech Street between Fern and Dale streets, with an even larger coverage area than last year. The premise is to “light up the business district” and entice holiday shoppers near and far to shop locally in a fun, festive environment.

“South Park offers a lot of unique gifts that you won’t find anywhere else in places like the malls,” Ceccarelli said. “We have a couple of people that mostly [offer the work of] local San Diego artists and I think because there are so many different personalities that run the different stores, each has its own quirky additions that are fun and funky.”

During the walkabout a week later, the business district will offer even more activities, in addition to holiday specials at every storefront. A specialty food truck will take its place in the small lot adjacent to Junc. With holiday lights and music, it plans to add to the fun while also serving as a quick food stop for shoppers.

Vella said South Bark, which recently reorganized and added a set of freezers to hold raw food, will offer 20 percent off retail items and hand out holiday gift bags to shoppers based on their purchases. With underground roadwork the last several months along 30th Street impacting sales, Vella said she is looking forward to the SPBG events as well as South Bark’s annual Black Friday sale on Nov. 28. Last year’s sale drew over 150 eager animal lovers before 7 a.m. alone, with people elbowing around each other to garner the best places in line.

“It’s hysterical,” she said, adding that this year, the palm trees in front of her stand-alone business are already being outfitted with holiday lights for the occasion.

Though the South Park Walkabouts always take place on the same weekend as the nearby December Nights, Ceccarelli doesn’t see a conflict.

“A lot of people ask ‘Why do you do that?’ but what’s happened is, [December Nights has] gotten so busy over at Balboa Park that a lot of people want an alternative,” she said. “We end up having a good crowd for our walkabout. The other event can be overwhelming, while this one is still a really nice community event.”

At the Beech Street end of the business district, where she has operated Studio Maureen for nearly three decades, Ceccarelli said shoppers will enjoy “street minstrels,” also known as the Peace on Earth Carolers, while they go door to door during the annual festivities. It’s an event she looks forward to every year.

“Many of my customers just come in at Christmastime, so I get to see people that I don’t see the rest of the year, and that’s really fun,” she said. “You know, in 27 years I’ve become friends with a lot of people that come in, or at least acquaintances, and I know their stories. It’s fun to see everybody.”

Parrish spoke to the camaraderie and environment that the South Park businesses have created for residents and other visitors, and Luminaria season epitomizes it for him.

“What I like most is the small-town-in-the-middle-of-the-big-city holiday feeling that Luminaria creates,” he said. “I’m a Colorado boy and it gives me the feeling of home … especially in the evening when the tree-lined street is lit up.”

South Park’s Luminaria season kicks off Sunday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m., and their annual Holiday Walkabout is Saturday, Dec. 6 from 6 – 10 p.m. For more information about both events, visit

 —Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at

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