It's not quite the Miracle on Walnut Street, but Rittenhouse Square will not have to go without its lights this holiday season after all.
The Friends of Rittenhouse Square have decided to install the seasonal tree lights in the Center City park, even though they have yet to completely make up for the loss of the city's annual contribution, the group's president, Wendy Rosen, said yesterday.
Thanks to an intense fund-raising push over the last few days, she said, the group now has $23,000 in hand, about $7,000 short of the necessary amount. The big break came when the head of Philadelphia's electrical workers union, John J. Dougherty, offered to dispatch a brigade of volunteer electricians to hang the square's sparkling, openwork globes.
"I have faith that it will happen," Rosen said. "It's still a big deal that we're $7,000 short, but I felt if we didn't decide to do it now, the window of opportunity would be gone."
The electricians must start installation by the end of this week to have the lights ready for Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday season. Rosen was cautiously optimistic that the workers from the union, IBEW 98, would make the deadline.
Philadelphia normally contributes about $30,000 toward the holiday lights, matching the Friends' effort. This year, the city was too broke to afford its share of the glittery balls. After the Friends started their fund-raising campaign, Fairmount Park agreed to turn over the $10,000 fee it collected from a T.J. Maxx fashion show in the square.
Most of the contributions came in small sums of $50 and $100 from local residents and business people who couldn't bear the thought of seeing Center City's premier park remain dark during the holiday season. One local resident, Richard W. Vague, who runs an energy company, wrote a check for $5,000, Rosen said.
As soon as Walnut Street's merchants heard about the shortfall, they organized a fund-raiser at D'Angelos Restaurant on 20th Street, said Corie Moskow, president of Rittenhouse Row, their association.
Even though retailers are struggling to stay afloat in a weak economy, many members felt it would be worse if the park lost its seasonal glow.
"We all just felt this is so sad," Moskow said. "A dark park is not a good thing for any of us."