News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 28, 2009

MAX JONES: Christmas miracles can still happen

By Max Jones

TERRE HAUTE — You don’t have to wander far to find people who remember vividly when downtown Terre Haute was the place to be during the Christmas shopping season. With all the major retailers anchored on or near Wabash Avenue and surrounded by street after street of specialty shops, it was a sight to behold.

Those days vanished several decades ago. The big box stores relocated in shopping malls near interstate highways on the outskirts of American cities.

But it’s just not the same.

Perhaps that’s why small retailers, businesses and other interests in today’s downtowns keep trying to recapture that slice of Americana. A small group of folks in downtown Terre Haute did some brainstorming about that this past year, and they think they’re on to something special. I think they’re right.

Miracle on Seventh Street will be unveiled Friday evening, and it promises to light up downtown Terre Haute in spectacular fashion. What makes this effort to rekindle that holiday spirit is that it seizes on the artistic theme that is beginning to define the district in diverse and colorful ways.

The Arts Corridor — the segment of Seventh Street between Poplar Street and the campus of Indiana State University — is slowly but surely becoming ahaven for professional and aspiring artists. That development, encouraged by downtown leaders, is advancing nicely.

The small group of brainstormers embraced that theme, and the seeds of the Miracle on Seventh Street began to grow. Led by Brian Whisenhunt of Swope Art Gallery, Boo Lloyd of Crossroads Café, longtime Crossroads employee Libby Waters, and businessman Terry Hogan of SmithBarney, the festival began to take shape. Visitors will be in for a treat.

Businesses and galleries along Seventh and Wabash have enthusiastically jumped aboard, as have entities such as the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce.

The plan calls for Seventh Street to be closed between Wabash and Ohio late Friday afternoon and evening. Two large tents will be the centerpiece for the event, erected to hold almost 30 artists and craftspeople who will display and sell their work from 5 to 10 p.m.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a personal interest in this portion of the event. My daughter, Chelsea, who will receive her degree this spring from the Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts at Indiana University-Bloomington, will be among the artists in the tents. She specializes in making jewelry and will offer her creations to visitors Friday evening. She’ll be joined by Waters, a photographer, and a diverse group of artisans. You’ll even be able to buy your Christmas tree there from the Optimist Club.

Outside the tents, area businesses and galleries will be open. Christmas music will waft through the night air, thanks to the participation of the city’s church choirs.

I’ve experienced other downtown festivals in the past, and some have done very well. There is something about this one, however, that has the potential to be truly magical. Like the old days, the entire downtown district seems to be seizing the spirit. When that happens, anything is possible.

This is going to be great fun.

Tribune-Star editor Max Jones can be reached at