Imagine riding in a horse-drawn carriage down the quaint, historic Salem Street. Lights twinkle in the storefronts and on the lampposts. A large Christmas tree stands at one end of the street and children all around are enjoying visits from Santa. This idyllic holiday vision will be brought to life with the annual Christmas on Salem Street Celebration.
Christmas on Salem Street is an event used to kick off the holiday season in Apex and gives community members a reason to come together and celebrate. However, in the early 1990s when the event was first created, one of its main purposes was to draw people into historic downtown Apex and, as a result, boost local businesses.
Carol and Andy Kish were shop-owners of the “That Unique and Wonderful Place” located on Salem Street. The space was previously home to “Popes 5 & 10” and today it houses “The Rusty Bucket” and “All Booked Up”. However, when Andy and Carol ran their business, the downtown looked much different than it does today. Many of the shops were boarded up and one end of the street was even condemned. Many local residents were drawn to the malls for their shopping needs. The desire to buy local, which is more common today, was not a priority for many people. For both the sake of their business and to draw attention to the local flavor of downtown Apex, Carol and Andy looked for ways to bring people to the area.
One of the ways the Kish’s accomplished their goal was through their creation of a fall craft show called “Today and Yesteryear”. Unfortunately, this event did not stand the test of time and does not take place anymore. However, Andy and Carol also initiated the 4th of July parade. This event is still a highlight of current day Apex Independence Day celebration. The idea for a Christmas Celebration stemmed from Andy and Carol’s desire to give back to the community and increase exposure to the historic downtown. They brought in a horse and carriage to give rides to community members and invited Santa to come for all the children.
This Christmas event provided a way for business to give back to the community in an effort to thank them for shopping locally. Any of the money raised through the event went directly towards paying for the activities of the celebration. Today, this is still the case. Christmas on Salem Street is not an event to raise money for local businesses. All fees for the various activities still go towards the cost of running them, not to the Apex Downtown Business Association.
In addition to the event remaining a thank you from local business to the community, many of the activities are also the same. The horse-drawn carriage rides that were the hallmark of Andy and Carol’s event still takes place. In fact, Ann Keehan, one of the leaders of the event for the past five years, reports that the horse and carriage rides are always the most popular event and tickets often sell out. This year, tickets for the horse and carriage rides and the train rides can be purchased online. They can also still be purchased at the event. To ride on the horse-drawn carriage costs $10 and a train ride can be purchased for $5.
The event kicks off this year on Friday, December 2nd at 5pm with the lighting of a big Christmas tree. This is traditionally performed by the current mayor of the town. Around 5:45pm, Santa and Mrs. Clause arrive on horse-drawn carriage and spend the rest of the night visiting with guests. Once Santa has arrived, community members can enjoy horse and carriage rides, train rides, face painting, snacks, and crafts for the next three hours.
As with many community events, volunteers are critical in helping the event succeed. At the Friday night events, volunteers are needed to sell tickets and also help riders on and off of the carriages and trains. Community members can also volunteer to be Santa’s helper or to assist with keeping people out of the street so the carriages and trains can continue to run. Ann Keehan manages the volunteer positions and anyone who wants to be involved in this capacity should contact her.
Friday night is just one part of the weekend-long celebration. Saturday, December 3rd begins with a pancake breakfast at the downtown fire station and pictures with Santa in front of The Apex Depot. The “Grand Christmas Parade”, which is hosted by the Apex Rotary Club, takes place at 5pm and will begin at the intersection of Ambergate Station and The Peakway. It will travel down Salem Street, finally ending at the Apex Public Works buildings on Upchurch Street. Any businesses or groups that wish to be included in the parade can fill out a parade application on the Apex Rotary website. All fees to participate in the parade benefit the Western Wake Crisis Ministry.
The final event, held on Sunday, truly celebrates the well-preserved history of Apex with the Historical Holiday Home Tour hosted by the Apex Historical Society. The tour features two local restored historic homes, the Apex United Methodist Church original sanctuary, the Oaks at Salem weddings and meeting venue, the 1914 train depot, and the 1870 Maynard-Pearson House. A tour guide brochure, which can be purchased beforehand, serves as the admission ticket and also gives visitors more information about the various locations they can tour. This event gives community members a chance to step back in time and learn more about the history of their town.
The first weekend in December is full of activities for citizens of all ages. Whether you’re interested in carriage rides, touring historical houses, or participating in the parade, there is something for everyone to do. Christmas on Salem Street is the perfect way to kick off the new holiday season. And perhaps most importantly, just as Carol and Andy intended, Christmas on Salem Street gives the community the opportunity to come together and appreciate downtown Apex.