The Story of Christmas in the Park

Small business of the day: Christmas in the Park (CITP), @xmasintheparksj

Who: CITP Executive Director Jason Minsky

What: A non-profit organization that runs a holiday event held in the heart of San Jose, Calif., where the park is transformed into a whimsical space with animated exhibits, sparking lights, live music and a 60-foot Community Giving Tree.

When: Officially founded in 1980, and runs each year from Black Friday through New Year’s Day

Where: Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose, CA

How: What started as a humble Nativity display in Don Lima’s front yard back in the 1950s, has grown into the Christmas in the Park tradition that is now in its 35th year, with more than 40 displays and attracting visitors from all around the world.

According to Minsky, more than 500,000 people attend the free event each year that generates an estimated $13.3 million in total visitor spending — providing “critical economic activity for restaurants, retailers and attractions at the core downtown area” during the holiday season. Minsky says it’s “thanks to thousands upon thousands of tireless hours from volunteers and generous community donations,” that CITP, which costs $600,000 to put on, is able to flip the lights on every year.

This year, in looking to revamp their “outdated” cash-only payment model, CITP partnered with PayPal to implement the PayPal Here system, which allows vendors to take their phones or tablets (with the card reader attached) and accept credit card payments on the go.

CITP hosts a total of 14 permanent vendors, including CITP’s Toy Shop. After trying out PayPal Here last year at CITP’s Toy Shop, this time around 11 of the vendors are signed on to use the system.

Biggest challenge: Many of the vendors are unfamiliar with payment technologies, having operated cash-only for so long, Minsky says. Getting them “up to speed on the concept of using a new technology to increase their revenue” has proven challenging. But, he adds, that once they start using it most have been pleasantly surprised with how easy it is.

Moment in time: Tech talk aside, Minsky says the most memorable moment each season happens when children from the Chandler Tripp School for the visually impaired visit. When they visit, CITP gives them a hands-on tour of the grounds, taking them behind the scenes where they can sit in Santa’s chair, touch the animal displays and the train as it goes by.

To make the tour extra special, they turn on the snow machines, and “when you see their faces light up, there is usually not a dry eye in the area,” Minsky says.