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Winterblast returns, but is cut short when balloon hits power line

You thought Black Friday was the start of the holiday shopping season? Think again. In Santa Rosa it’s Winterblast.

Hundreds of people showed up to let loose, enjoy the holiday spirit — and shop— Saturday in the South of A Street Arts District for the annual event that was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

People gathered to watch two parades, check out art studios and unique stores, dance to music by several bands and a DJ and savor food from local restaurants. The unusual parades, which feature decorated sofas on wheels in a nod to the arts district known as SOFA, included a mishmash of Christmas and winter-themed floats, bicyclists, fairies and queens. There was a costumed Frosty the Snowman (fine artist Alina Nuebel) walking the parade route and posing for selfies with parade participants and watchers.

The mood was festive and people were having fun.

But Winterblast was a blast in more ways than one. The second parade was just ending when there was an explosion, which looked like a blown transformer on a power pole, at 8:19 p.m. There was a shower of sparks and everything went black. The lights were out all along Santa Rosa Avenue south from Juilliard Park to Costco on Santa Rosa Avenue. People had been whooping and cheering and taking pictures with their phones as the sofas went by, and when the explosion occurred, some whooped some more.

The outage affected electricity users in the southeastern part of the county, and was caused by a Mylar balloon hitting a power line, according to PG&E spoksperson Deanna Contreras. Power was restored to all 3,609 customers in Santa Rosa by 8:45 p.m., she said.

Speaking before the event, organizer Bob Stender, owner of Tibidabo Photography on South of A Street for 32 years, said he was happy to be in charge this year of the SOFA district event following a 2020 hiatus because of the pandemic.

“It’s such a great gift to the city. I was one of the originators of it,” Stender said. “I just love the idea of it. I grew up in Santa Rosa and it was a kind of boring place to live. I wanted to change that for my children and grandchildren, so here we are!”

Stender chuckled at the idea that the city was just rated one of the top 10 fun places to live in the United States.

“I never would have guessed that,” he said.

Amy Loukonen of Santa Rosa, part of the fairy contingent of Sonoma County Biker Chicks, said the women dressed in homemade fairy costumes for Halloween and she persuaded them to add some lights, decorate a sofa with stars and brightly lit bicycle wheels and enter the parade. They rode their bicycles along with the North Bay Kruisers, organizers of the Taco Tuesday Ride.

“I’ve been wanting to do this since I first came to the parade,” Loukonen said, standing with Benny the Boston terrier, who rode on the sofa float wearing his sweater. “They made my dream come true.”

Another group of women, from Sebastopol, gussied up a chair as a throne with fake white fur, white feathers and other bling. All wore white sparkly dresses and took turns playing a winter queen, said Kalina Rose. Rose, who wore a feather headband and a red, gold and white sequined mask, said she made the throne with her friend, Monnett Zubieta, who was adorned with white ribbons with blinking white lights and wore colorful blinking gloves.

“We all dress in white on Halloween, and we decided to tweak it and make it wintry,” said Nina Carson, another member of the group.

Several doctors put together a sofa float with a sign that said “Get Your Shot,” highlighting the need for everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine, especially children ages 5 to 11 that were recently approved.

“A lot of us are excited for our children to have the opportunity” to get vaccinated, said Dr. Veronica Jordan, who was there with her sons, Jonah, 6, and Dillon, 11, as well as Bryanna, 4½. “It’s been a long year and a half for people with young children.”

The open house allowed Winterblast goers to take advantage of special deals at the various shops in the arts district, including Avalow Nurseries and Gardens, where co-owner Jeremy Nusser said “We’re doing a special on rare plants and garden-themed gifts. We want to make sure all our plant enthusiasts get what they want from their personal wish list.”

One shop, a new business called Heritage Alchemy, had cheery little Christmas trees in their window. It has a refill station with dispensers to allow you to reuse your plastic or glass bottles with hand soap, dish soap, body wash, laundry detergent or shampoo. They also sell sustainable health and beauty products and home decór.

“We are having a lot of fun,” said Erin Sweeney, manager of the business. “We love being part of this neighborhood and being a part of this event, especially since so much of the art made here has to do with upcycling used materials, which is in line with our mission. We get a (sales) bump from this, and it’s a great way to connect with the community. We want to get people away from single-use plastic.”

Along the parade route, some dressed in costumes, including Liz Cozine of Santa Rosa, wearing her aunt’s poofy white petticoat and a big clock attached to a black vest and belt.

“I’m reminding people to turn back their clocks tonight,” she said.

Two women, Lorene Romero of Windsor and Lee Ann Sachi of Santa Rosa, said it was their first time at Winterblast and Romero’s first time in the SOFA district.

“I discovered a whole other world I didn’t know about,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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