By JD LONG
CADIZ – The popular Nutcracker displays that have been seen in Steubenville the past three years are apparently spreading in attraction. President of the Cadiz Business Association (CBA) Howard Landkrohn stood before a nice crowd at the Cadiz Country Club on Wednesday to get a feel for what people wanted during the holidays and his mind was on Nutcrackers and he brought the man responsible for it all to speak to the audience.
Landkrohn and others are seeking to build on the positive response last year’s Christmas parade and participation it received. One idea Landkrohn is selling to build on last year’s success is a “Snowman Theme” as the Square being the likely location for the display.
He also mentioned what Cambridge was doing with their Dickens’ mannequins along with the Nutcracker idea. What further interested Landkrohn was that the theme didn’t have to be Christmas-specific, he said, as it could be tied to Cancer Crusaders, as well as “sales and promotions around town.”
Mark Nelson, who is originally from Missouri and described himself as a small business owner, moved to the area years ago after attending Franciscan University. He now owns and operates his own farm but along with that his business is making gifts.
“We’re the largest, specifically Catholic, gift-manufacturing company in the United States,” Nelson told the crowd. “But we don’t discriminate we make all types of inspirational products…a lot of them are more nativity-based or made more icon-based that you would find in a non-denominational type of gift market.”
Nelson explained how he came to make the Nutcrackers for the Steubenville displays as wanting to do something for the downtrodden image that the city has suffered.
He explained that after purchasing an old school for his business eight years ago, thereby moving into the city, he became a part of the negative atmosphere surrounding Steubenville that he successfully avoided up till then. Nelson eventually became involved in the Steubenville Revitalization Group where they tossed around ideas for some kind of brand to sell but that was rejected, as some felt they weren’t ready because they basically had nothing to sell at that time.
“We didn’t feel we were ready for that yet,” he said adding that what further hurt the movement was the Steubenville rape case from several years ago, where several Big Red football players were involved in a rape of which they eventually were convicted. Nelson said he and others wanted city council to “distance the citizens of the city of Steubenville” from the case but he said they did the “exact opposite” and actually supported the students, according to Nelson.
“That really is why we are where we’re at today out of the frustration we experienced by being guilty by association…in a crime we had nothing to do with…” he said of the city’s residents.
“So we kicked it into high gear…” Nelson said and what came out of a meeting was soon-to-be-Mayor Jerry Barilla’s idea of putting Nutcrackers in storefront windows. Nelson said he didn’t disagree but went home and further researched different designs and came back with one where it was overwhelmingly approved.
“We set the goal of 50 and we figured out how to carve them out of, it’s a rigid high density foam…and each one of those Nutcrackers is covered in resident fiberglass,” Nelson explained.
After figuring out the cost, the where and what, as in a festival and what it would look like, an idea of sponsors paying $100 to put their names on a sign next to each Nutcracker, the Steubenville Nutcracker Village was born.
What happened next was not only amusing but a surprise that turned out to be an embarrassment to one city official when Nelson said the media pulled up to city hall to ask their opinion on the display. He said they’d driven in 35 Nutcrackers in the early morning hours and set them up as a surprise.
“Our city manager had to get up and look out the front window and find out what was going on,” he said when the media asked how they did it. “Because it was on private property and because it was completely funded by citizens we didn’t have to have permission for any part of it.” He said thousands turned out for the displays and changed the image of the city overnight.
“It just became magical,” he said, “and overnight…we just overcame every stigma that we ever had in Steubenville magically, overnight. The lights, the magic, the family, the community it…it all came together.”
Nelson said the cost was $1,000 per Nutcracker and joked that it wasn’t a good business idea when figuring in the $100 per sponsor sign.
Landkrohn stressed that nothing has been done regarding the Nutcracker theme or anything else related and that the CBA was only gauging interest from the public at this time.