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December 11, 2010

Why First Night?

Times are tough. But so are we.

In Oneonta, and in towns and villages throughout the area, business owners struggle to pay the rent, the utilities, the taxes and payroll. They take what they can spare from the till to keep food on their own tables.

Maybe you have to be a small-business owner to truly appreciate that. (I am, and I do.) For their employees, things are uncertain at best. Few look for a raise. They hope to keep their jobs, even as friends, neighbors and family have lost theirs.

And when the workday is done, the grip of these grim times isn't loosened. If anything, it tightens with every drumbeat of bad news delivered by the TV and PC.

It's overwhelming. We need a hero, we think. But, what we really need is a mirror.

And so, we are bringing back First Night -- with a difference.

Not just as entertainment -- although it will be the largest in Oneonta this century -- but as a celebration of what our community can do and has done.

First Night 2011 has been dubbed "Imagine Oneonta," and it's our rallying cry!

This New Year's Eve, as thousands enjoy the most eclectic collection of entertainments imaginable, they will celebrate our community's collective successes as well. They'll be reminded of the hurdles we've cleared and the challenges we've overcome.

We are heroes. And we will make it through these tough times.

New Year's Eve is the one day in the year when everyone -- friends and strangers alike -- offers the gift of optimism, of hope for a better day. And we take it, gladly, even as we extend those wishes in return. That optimism about a new year's potential doesn't last long, sometimes just days. But if this year some 4,000 to 5,000 people leave Oneonta's historic downtown feeling just a little more empowered, just a little more hopeful… well, just imagine!

We're gathering an array of musicians, dancers and other performers the likes of which haven't been assembled in memory. Hundreds of volunteers are being recruited to assist downtown businesses in the transformation of their storefronts into mini-theaters. First Night's iconic puppets are receiving the TLC they've so long needed. The parade is forming. Fireworks are being readied.

But there's more!

In deference to the economy and the burden it has placed on local families, we're instituting a new admission policy. For the first time, children under 12 will be admitted for free.

In addition, we've moved our spectacular fireworks display to just after 10 p.m. so that the entire family can enjoy it.

Following the fireworks' finale, there will be a free show on the portable bandstand on Main Street. A toast to the New Year follows, and at midnight, a peal of bells will cascade from the hills of Hartwick to church after church in Oneonta's downtown.

We hope you'll join us this First Night, and help us Imagine Oneonta as the community that can.

These times may be tough, but so are we. (And we know how to party.) For more information about First Night Oneonta, see www.ImagineOneonta.com or look for us on Facebook. (Search Imagine Oneonta.)

Mark Drnek is chairman of First Night Oneonta.

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