Excitement grows for 70th Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade

March 13, 2023 | Trent Levakis

Every year residents and officials from around the region and beyond gather in Holyoke for the St. Patrick’s Parade. This year’s parade takes place on March 19.
Reminder Publishing file photo

HOLYOKE — Anticipation continues to grow as Holyoke’s biggest weekend approaches in the 70th St. Patrick’s Parade weekend and the community is geared up for its second straight year back after two years off.

The weekend unofficially starts on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day itself, but citywide events start on March 18 and parade day is March 19. On March 18, the 46th Holyoke St. Patrick’s Road Race will kick off the Homecoming Weekend for the city. The described kickoff block party has a 10K race and also a 2-mile walking route, both through the city of Holyoke.

March 19 is Parade Day, marking the seven-decade milestone for the parade. The inaugural St. Patrick’s Day parade was hosted on March 16, 1952, with a reported 25,000 people watching along the parade route. The city looked to draw on its Irish heritage and the event became a hit with it now attracting an estimated 400,000 people annually.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade President Karen Casey is looking forward to seeing the masses out for the big weekend and called it a community reunion not just in Holyoke but for the greater Western Massachusetts contingent.

“You walk down the street, and you see everybody and you’re so excited,” Casey said. “I’m excited and it’s fun to see everybody that goes, and I hope a lot of people come out. It’s just a good day.”

Casey is in her first year as parade president and said she personally is looking forward to being in the parade with her grandsons. She also added one of her favorite parts of the celebrations is the buildup on parade day and the fun she finds in the sometimes hecticness of it all.

This year is also the second straight year of the parade weekend after the coronavirus pandemic caused a two-year hiatus. Casey noted this year has been much smoother in getting in the swing of the parade season and is happy to see things heading in this direction. She has served on the Parade Committee since 2008.

“It was so disappointing,” Casey said of the canceled parade years. “That’s why we appreciate it more now because we were so appreciative so many people came back out last year, and I hope that it just continues that way. I know we still have to be safe and be careful but as far as being outside it helps.”

The return of the parade last year also illustrated the enormous economic impact the event brings to the community following two years without it. From restaurants and bars to banquet halls, many of these businesses in Holyoke and the county would host celebrations from grand marshal events to colleen banquets in lead up to the parade.

The whole weekend sees significant profitable days and nights for the Holyoke economy, specifically small businesses, restaurants and bars. Director of Planning and Economic Development Aaron Vega told Reminder Publishing the parade’s return last year and this year also provide many new businesses in Holyoke to experience the benefits of the weekend.

“Having the parade and having the homecoming, not just for Holyoke but for all of Western Mass., the economics of it definitely impact a lot of small business and restaurants and event spaces in Holyoke and surrounding areas as well,” Vega said. “All that economic activity is brought back, especially in a quiet time, still coming out of winter. People are coming back to the event. This is actually kind of a spring awakening that gets everyone back together and back out.”

Vega also noted vendors that come out for food or merchandise all see big returns during the weekend along with the downtown businesses.

“It’s a big boost, all of them really benefit from the two or three days as it starts on Friday night really. All the restaurants and the bars, it’s definitely an anchor weekend for them,” Vega added. “I’ve often heard them say this weekend will cover a huge percentage of their profits for the entire year.”

While Vega and the city of Holyoke do not track the parade weekend’s direct economic impact in dollars each year, a study performed by the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute in 2012 found through an economic contribution analysis that the parade generates a total contribution of $20.5 million in local economic activity. This number is estimated to only have grown the last decade.

The report also adds that with over 400,000 spectators attracted to a typical parade, $12 million is brought into the region through lodging, food, recreation, groceries, gifts, souvenirs and additional shopping.

“It’s just so great to come back to it. It’s good to see people you haven’t seen in a long time. There’s so much tradition around the parade here in Holyoke obviously with the Parade Committee and the longstanding families, it’s just embedded in our DNA really,” Vega said. “There’s just a lot of joy and I think that’s really needed nowadays in this world … it’s really a pride weekend in many ways, to come to have that pride in your community, that civic pride in your community or town, and it’s all on display for everyone to see if they walk down the streets.”

Vega said he is very much looking forward to this year’s parade and is excited for the community to once again join together in celebration. He also noted the 70th parade on its own is reaching a historic milestone and that the city itself has a milestone being reached in celebrating its 150th birthday.

Vega noted the city is having each annual Holyoke event fall under the umbrella of the 150th anniversary of the city, and St. Patrick’s Day weekend is a great starting point for a year of celebration in the city.

“This really kind of kicks off a celebration of Holyoke and gives a day for everyone to come out and have pride in the city,” Vega said. “That’s what the 150th celebration is all about. Reflecting on those traditions and those in the past, and the history that we have but also looking forward.”

Fingers are crossed for a second straight year of good parade day weather according to Casey as she looks forward to the big weekend for the city of Holyoke.

“People are excited. Everything that we do and what goes on, a lot of the community comes out, no matter if they’re Irish or not. I keep saying everybody’s Irish this time of year,” Casey said. “But I think they just have a sense of pride, especially in Holyoke, in coming together. I think it’s great for the whole area.”

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