BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Get off the streets and head to the alleys to find some of Traverse City’s most spectacular holiday light displays.
Residents on two blocks in the Central neighborhood festooned their garages, fences, and utility lines in a dizzying array of holiday cheer — from a lighted Creche to a moving elephant and Santa on a motorcycle — decorations that are draped across the middle of the narrow alley.
“We started with just the telephone poles, but it spread pretty quickly,” said resident Craig Dilloway. “It looks a little bit like Las Vegas back there, but it’s festive.”
Dilloway and his neighbors who share an alley between Tenth and Eleventh streets off Pine Street began their decoration binge about eight years ago. The neighbors credit Leon and Linda Lichty as their inspiration. The Lichtys for years purchased a large Christmas tree that they cut in half. The bottom half went on their porch and the top of the tree on the deck above, creating an appearance that the tree grew through the roof.
When the couple announced they would no longer be able to do the tree, neighbors talked about doing something special and the Lichtys passed along their tree lights.
“We have a really good neighborhood, a great community, and everybody just sort of grew with it,” Linda Lichty said. “They’re beautiful. You come home and see the lights and it makes you smile.”
Neighbor Matt McDonough described Linda as a sort of block mom.
“Her attitude and smile are just infectious,” McDonough said.
Two things caused the neighbors to focus on the alley. It would be something unique, and it was where the neighbors all socialized.
“I don’t know anybody across the street from me, but I know everybody on the alley,” McDonough said. “There is just a real strong sense of community there.”
McDonough has rental houses on either side of him, so he makes sure both are decorated. He was slow getting the lights up this year, and said he could sense the pressure as his neighbors kept offering to help or do it for him.
“It’s the way the alley is,” McDonough said. “We are really kind of taking care of each other.”
A few blocks away, neighbors credit Steve and Sherry Purkiss for sparking their alley’s display of lights, which began to shine about three or four years ago.
“Steve Purkiss is the brains behind the whole thing and it’s getting better every year,” said neighbor Phil Balyeay, who lives on Ninth Street between Oak and Maple streets. “He’ll do any of the decorating for the whole alley for owners who ask.”
Bud Schmeltzer switched his lights from the front of the house to the back about three years ago. He said Purkiss puts them up for him and takes them down in the spring.
“We get quite a few visitors,” Schmeltzer said. “They even come by the busloads.”
Each group of alley neighbors also celebrate with a holiday open house, and Linda Lichty said she went to meet the Purkisses at their open house on Sunday to cheer them on.
“It’s not a competition,” Lichty said. “It’s our gift to the community as a neighborhood, and it’s wonderful because it’s catching on.”