Harvard Street brings holidays to Hemet with festive celebration

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Nathan and Nolan Gonzalez pick up a play sheet from members of the Hemet Woman’s Club who coordinated the Harvard Street Holidays event, Saturday, Dec. 14, with, standing from left, Joann Covi and Susan Carrier and sitting from left, Kimberly Fix and Debbie Morrione. Valley News/Diane A. Rhodes photo

Although the city of Hemet has existed for more than a century, the Hemet Woman’s Club introduced a new event this holiday season. Harvard Street Holidays offered a festive celebration Saturday, Dec. 14, which drew hundreds of visitors to the Downtown Hemet Historic District to enjoy six hours of music, crafts and vendors that transformed the street and adjacent areas into a holiday paradise.

Organizer Susan Carrier, chair of the event committee and CEO of the Historic Hemet Theatre, said the club has been trying for several years to create a signature event and hoped it will prove to be it.

About 40 booths were set up in the vendor zone, selling holiday merchandise or offering information about resources and local events. More than 30 organizations participated in various ways. The Salvation Army set up an inflatable bouncer. Assistance League of Hemacinto offered temporary tattoos with a winter theme, and 10 groups signed up to host craft booths. The Hemet Valley Art Association took its art and its artists to the street to share the talent from the nonprofit’s Harvard Street gallery.

Hemet Woman’s Club volunteers each hosted a station. Storyteller JoAnn Kuehl served alone, while others combined forces as elves to help Santa greet children for photos. Carrier oversaw permitting and logistics, which began in August.

Hemet’s Christine Rodriguez took her 6-year-old son, Gabriel, and three nephews from Lake Elsinore to the event, who intently listened as retired schoolteacher Kuehl read “The Legend of the Candy Cane.”

“I saw this event on Facebook and was looking forward to it – we got here right when it started,” Rodriguez said. “My favorite part was visiting Santa – he interacted with the kids so well.”

Carrier said she had no idea what to expect when she hatched her plan last spring but was pleased with the reactions from visitors and volunteers throughout the event.

“I’ve got a passion for community,” Carrier said. “Back in the day, ‘community’ was knowing the people around you but nowadays most don’t even know the names of their neighbors. We’ve lost that sense of community, and this is an attempt to try and recover that.”

Harvard Street Music Exchange co-owner Julio Guez was happy to be part of the event and donated sound equipment for the stage area set up at the north end of Harvard that provided entertainment and seating for guests.

“I just wanted to help out our downtown area and do what I could to help people have a positive experience,” he said.

Before the official start of the Harvard Street Holidays, visitors gathered at the city’s parking lot about halfway up the block for the unveiling of a plaque dedicated for the community’s Christmas tree, which was planted and lit for the first time, Dec. 14, 2014.

Hemet’s Mayor Pro Tem Linda Krupa said the city puts lights on the tree every holiday season through the end of the year. The plaque gives credit to the late Rick Truskowski of Hemet True Value Hardware who was responsible for having the 10-foot fresh tree delivered to and planted at the site.

“It was a short ceremony but one that gave us a warm and fuzzy feeling that the whole community could share,” Krupa said.

Diane A. Rhodes can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.