The spectacular Nights of Lights returns Saturday to downtown St. Augustine, and that means more money for local businesses.
This year marks the 30th annual Nights of Lights, an enormous display of lights draped across downtown buildings. The event honors the Spanish tradition of displaying white candles in windows during Christmas.
The main lighting ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m. around the Plaza de la Constitución in the historic downtown area. The city’s holiday tree and canopy of live oak trees will be lit.
The entire event from November through January typically brings in tens of thousands of people to the city, according to the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.
With all those people, businesses are getting ready for a spike in customers on the water and land. Tourism-related jobs make up a big chunk of the county’s labor force. Eleven percent of people work in the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food service industries, ranking it fourth of 13 industries, according to St. Johns County.
Jimmy Hill is the president of Adventure Boat Tours, which allows customers to enjoy the sights of St. Augustine by boat. Hill says having Nights of Lights back is a big deal for his business and a game changer for the tourism industry in St. Augustine overall.
“What we end up with is a lot of families gather, and they look for ways to go do something special that is a family-oriented event that’s kind of easy to do,” Hill said.
He said he’ll see between a 50% to 60% increase in business during the three-month display.
Other businesses feel it too. Britta Messler is general manager at Ancient City Brewing, right next to the plaza where the main lighting ceremony takes place. She said her business experiences a 60% to 90% increase in business this time of year, after a slow season from August through early October.
“For us it really is like almost a double increase, for at least the first month between Thanksgiving, all the holidays, and then up until Christmas,” Messler said.
Some of those visitors are larger groups and some are families, but it could be just friends wanting to catch up in the brewery, she said.
“I really do think that we get just more people that are just happy to spend time with each other, whereas, as much as I hate to say it, when they come here in the summertime and it is hot so they just look for air conditioning,” Messler said.
The increase in people in the downtown area also means that parking and getting around might be tougher. Roads will be closed and parking restricted around the Plaza de la Constitución.
The city says Cathedral Place between Cordova Street and Avenida Menendez will be closed between 5 and 8 p.m., and parking along that stretch will be prohibited all day. King Street also will be closed between Cordova Street and Avenida Menendez at times when police determine it’s necessary to keep people safe. Parking along the north side of King Street also will be prohibited.
Free park-and-ride shuttles will run at certain times. You can find the latest information on that service at the city’s website.
Nights of Lights will end Jan. 28.