Although the first real snow of the season had already fallen and mostly melted away by Saturday, the spirit of winter was alive and well Dec. 11 when the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority held its annual Holiday Ice Festival, morphing the streets of Ferndale into a wintry playground.
The weather hovered around 40 degrees during the daylong event, allowing a multitude of visitors to comfortably enjoy the outdoors and the event's many activities and attractions, all free and open to the public.
Those attractions included two live reindeer — complete with real and very large antlers — in open air cages in Schiffer Park.
Santa Claus (aka Dan Martin, president of the Ferndale Community Foundation) was a busy guy Saturday. He started the day by hosting a breakfast at the Rotary Club, then he joined the lunch crowd at Buffalo Wild Wings. From 2-5 p.m., he was joined by co-founder of the annual Ferndale Blues Festival Larry Mills in Schiffer Park, where children of all ages could see the reindeer and have their pictures taken with the jolly old elf.
At 6 p.m., Santa attended the tree-lighting ceremony at Nine Mile and Woodward, where Ferndale's 40-foot pine came alive with more than 10,000 lights.
The Ferndale Fine Arts Boosters booth at Schiffer Park kept visitors warm and happy all day with hot chocolate and cookies, all in support of the orchestra, band, color guard and visual arts programs in the Ferndale Public Schools.
Schiffer Park also was the boarding site for Urban Hayrides, which circled the city on a tour of festival sites throughout the day. Riders enjoyed a prime view of more than 50 ice sculptures carved by world champion ice sculptor Tajana Raukar and a team of local artists.
Through the DDA, participating businesses commissioned ice sculptures that represented their stores and the season. For example, the sculpture outside Danny's Irish Pub depicted a leprechaun in search of gold, and The Library Bookstore opted for an icy statue of a wizard.
The hayride also meandered past a classic image of winter fun: outdoor ice skating. A large slab of the Ferndale Public Library's parking lot had been transformed into a rink for the day, attracting plenty of children and a few brave adults to try their skills on skates.
For the Warm Hearted Cookie Challenge, representatives of nonprofit groups and Ferndale businesses teamed up to raise money for worthy causes. The reigning champions from last year — the Ferndale Seniors — were at Dino's Lounge, with their perfected chocolate chip cookies. FernCare teamed with Strawberry Moon Bakery to sell Grandma Peggy's Roundball cookies.
Helen Weber and Sushma Rao offered Jubilee Jumbles for Peace Action in front of the Boston Tea Room, and Jackie Smith, owner of Candle Wick Shoppe, sold peanut butter cookies to help Diana Smith, founder of Ferndale Youth Assistance.
A dozen pairs of cookie teams could be found throughout Ferndale's shops and restaurants Saturday.
The Ferndale High School and Middle School Choir entertained visitors with Christmas carols throughout the day, alternately serenading businesses and restaurants on the east and west sides of Woodward. Choir director Kim Schroeder said the choir has caroled on Woodward for 13 years.
The event definitely boosted the flow of foot traffic for local businesses. "I've seen a steady flow of at least 20 to 30 people at a time flowing in and out of the store all day," LaWanda Aquino, who works at the Boston Tea Room.
AJ's Cafe hosted Winter Fling ... A Craft Thing, featuring local artists and crafters who set up booths throughout the shop, which was decorated as a winter wonderland. "This has just been an exciting day, AJ O'Neil said. "I'm thrilled with the success and to see the number of people out in the streets today — and in this cafe."
Cindy Wilcox, volunteer coordinator for the Ferndale DDA, seemed satisfied at the end of the day. "The festival just seems to keep growing in popularity," she said. "I see more people attending each year, and we hope to continue to outdo ourselves."
Correction: Larry Mills is the co-founder of the annual Ferndale Blues Festival. The Michigan AIDS Coalition was formed when the Michigan AIDS Fund and the Michigan AIDS Prevention Project (MAPP) merged. Oakland County Commissioner Dave Coulter and founder of MAPP Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey facilitated this merger.