A long-standing island holiday tradition is set to grow next year with the addition of a second Dickens on The Strand weekend, which event organizers hope will bring more people and new twists to the festival.
As Dickens on The Strand gets underway Friday, event organizer Galveston Historical Foundation’s board approved the long-discussed festival expansion this week, Executive Director Dwayne Jones said.
The holiday festival has been running for 45 years and celebrates life in Victorian London in the 19th century, during the time author Charles Dickens lived.
While the first weekend will remain largely the same, the foundation is exploring new directions for the second weekend, Jones said.
“We’ll be developing it over the next few months and years, of course, and looking at ways to make it equally as attractive,” Jones said.
The second Dickens weekend would immediately follow the first, he said.
The aim is to lure more visitors to the island as part of a larger city-wide effort to expand off-season tourism.
This year was the first for extensive holiday light decorations downtown, a project led by the Historic Downtown Galveston Partnership.
Tourism last year helped to generate $109,764 in hotel occupancy taxes, almost $20,000 more than the $81,182 collected in 2015, according to Galveston Park Board of Trustees statistics.
Beyond the added tourists, a second guaranteed weekend also would protect the event against poor weather conditions and attract people who couldn’t make the first weekend, Chief Creative Officer Will Wright said.
The second weekend likely will be smaller in footprint, confined to The Strand, Wright said.
“The second weekend would be more Dickens influence but it’ll be a different event,” Wright said. “We don’t want people to come back the second weekend and come back to see the same thing.”
Adding a second Dickens weekend is great news to downtown businesses, said Leslie LeCornu, owner of Tina’s on The Strand, 2326 Strand, and The Admiralty, 2221 Strand.
The Saturday of Dickens is always a good business day, she said.
“It’s our busiest day besides Black Friday,” LeCornu said. “From the end of the summer, we start preparing. We have to order an exorbitant amount of stuff for the weekend.”
The shops used to get a little downtime after the summer rush, but now, tourist business is a year-round commitment, she said.
In advance of next year, the foundation will have to coordinate logistics for the second weekend of an event that already takes all hands on deck, Wright said.
“We rely on a lot of volunteers for Dickens, that is definitely something we have to consider when we’re doing this,” Wright said. “We’re going to have to ask people to do more volunteer work.”
The current Dickens festival already takes 900 volunteers, Jones said.
The foundation won’t begin brainstorming themes for the second weekend until after this year’s Dickens festivities are over, Jones said.