SARANAC LAKE — Organizers of the first annual Saranac Lake Night say if they don’t get more member volunteers to help organize the citywide family New Year’s Eve event this year, the first night 2020 might have been the last.
First Night board chair Sue Patterson said several board members, including herself, are retiring from the board, but no new people have joined the board. administration in recent years.
It takes a big push to hold the city-wide event, and without fresh blood, she said they might have to pack it.
But board member Peter Crowley thinks that if people want to see First Night continue, they’ll step in and help make it happen. Patterson asks people to consider joining the board and helping keep the tradition alive.
First Night is a New Year’s option for families and people who want to go out on the town without being in the bars. For the past two years, First Night events have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We can finally have a first night after skipping two,” said Crowley.
But now that they are free from the pandemic, the event is in limbo. Patterson believes that by missing two years, the board lost its “mojo” and momentum.
Patterson, co-founder of the Saranac Lake event, said after 14 years of hosting First Night, she is “exhausted”.
“It’s sad, because I think it’s a big event,” said Patterson.
But she said all is not lost. If people want First Night to continue, all they have to do is commit time to being on set.
Crowley pointed out that the nonprofit First Night already exists. It’s a “turnkey operation”, he said. It is a financially stable organization. It just needs people to make it work. Button sales from events in one year cover the costs in the next.
First Night costs about $36,000 a year, Patterson said, and the company has about $22,000 in the bank from its button sales in 2020.
If First Night continues, she said the organization could fundraise for the rest of the costs. It’s usually pretty good at finding grants and community donations. Otherwise, she said the board will have to figure out how to distribute the money, likely to a nonprofit.
The First Night concept originated in Boston in 1975 and spread to other cities over the following decades.
Patterson was at a first night celebration in Burlington, Vermont years ago and loved the idea so much she decided to bring it to Saranac Lake.
Patterson has fond memories of First Nights – seeing the Gibson Brothers perform before they rose to fame and then after; or watching teenagers step into the improv comedy show Completely Stranded when they felt too old for other events.
“It was exciting. People loved coming there,” said Patterson.
The only problem was that the rooms filled up quickly and reached the maximum capacity of the buildings. Patterson said people were grateful for the event.
People in alcohol rehab at St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers volunteer and she said they enjoy the night. It’s a great way for them to celebrate the year away from the bar.
Crowley said that before the first night, New Year’s Eve at Saranac Lake was “dead.” One year he and a group of friends dressed up to go out, but when they came out they found the same 10 people at the bar who were still there.
“It was depressing. It was boring. And that was all, said Crowley.
The big, city-wide party with crowded streets and restaurants was not taking place at the time, and might never have happened if it weren’t for First Night, Crowley speculated.
“First Night created this,” he said.
Even the restaurants were mostly closed on New Year’s Eve before. Patterson said the first year of First Night, most restaurants didn’t want to open. They didn’t think they had enough customers to make it worthwhile. By the second year, the majority of the city was open and occupied. Now, she says, is the busiest night of the year for some establishments.
Crowley said people wanted a big community party around the turn of the year, but it didn’t happen until First Night brought it and got the whole town involved.
The First Night Council meets monthly from April to January. Members book entertainment, sign contracts with venues and acts, secure hotel rooms for performers, coordinate overnight volunteers, sell buttons, and prepare churches, libraries, town hall, and more. community spaces for the big night.
They would also need a lot of volunteer help on the night of the event. Ushers and site workers are given three buttons for a minimum of two hours of work, she said.
“I would like it to continue” said Patterson. “I think people want to see him back.”
Those interested in Patterson can reach her on the First Night website at https://bit.ly/3lO9COK.
She said she would advise and mentor anyone who wanted to take up the torch. She just doesn’t want to lead him anymore. Patterson had a lot “sleepless nights” about organizing the event, but she said it was always worth seeing the smiles spread across families’ faces as they listened to music, watched jugglers or had the fun bones tickled.