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Traverse City holiday light display sparks charitable giving

Gretchen Carr
Interlochen Public Radio

A group of neighbors in Traverse City have turned an annual holiday light display into the spot to feel some Christmas spirit. This year, they began collecting money for those in need. 


The alley between Eighth and Ninth Streets in the Central Neighborhood has been transformed into something out of a fairy tale. Thousands of brightly-colored lights and lawn ornaments hang from roof gables and ropes ― a set of chimes mounted on the side of a garage rings out traditional carols.    

Vince Cornelier is standing outside his garage, ringing a bell next to a red Salvation army kettle. 

“What we’ve decided to do is to collect funds for the Salvation Army,” he says. “Because with the masks and everything, it is hard to come up on people when you are coming out of the store, and so this seemed like a good thing to try, and it seems to be working out.” 

Vince and his neighbors have been decorating their back alley for the past few years. Because so many people have visited the alley this year, he proposed that they collect money for charity.  

As cars drive by, Vince holds out his homemade contraption to safely take donations. 

“This took me about a year and a half to make this ergonomically accurate, and actually it’s the only use this ski pole has seen in about 10 years,” he says, laughing. “I’ve taped a basket on the end of it so people don’t have to get out of their car to donate.” 

Lt. Matthew Winters of the Traverse City Salvation Army was very glad to hear about the neighbor’s initiative.  

“We were so excited that the alley decided to approach us with the idea of raising funds and having a kettle out there,” he says  “Last Saturday, they pulled in $595.00, which is a substantial amount of money when you’re looking at a two-and-a-half  hour window. Basically a $600 kettle is a good day, and to raise that in two-and-a-half hours is amazing.”

There’s so much Christmas Spirit here in the alley that the other night a famous character flew down to take a look.  

“We are visiting Traverse City for some very lucky and very good little children that we’ve come to see,” says a man from Northport dressed as Santa Claus. “That’s the reason we came to this area specifically because it lit up the sky and we thought we'd stop by and take a look. 

Steve Purkiss is another one of the neighbors who lives on the alley. He’s the self-described instigator of this light display. He says before you light up your neighborhood, you should know: 

“The top wires are the power and the lower wires are the cable and phone,” explains Steve. “If you are not careful, then you could die. That’s a public service announcement.”  

The “Christmas Alley” between 8th and 9th streets in Traverse City’s Central Neighborhood will be lit up until the New Year. The neighbors will be taking donations for the Salvation Army through Christmas Eve.


Coordinator of Operations and Engagement, Gretchen Carr joined the IPR staff in 2019. With her background in the performing arts, education, history, arts administration, and communications, she works to keep the daily operations at IPR running smoothly. A native of Traverse City, Michigan, she received a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Western Michigan University and a Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation from Eastern Michigan University. Gretchen is also a multimedia artist focusing on film, writing, soundscape, and radio story.