Making Christmas brighter: 'Tommy's tree' evolves into annual fundraising effort
PRESCOTT - What started years ago as an attempt to fill the "black hole" that downtown bar owner Tommy Meredith said existed in the Christmas lights facing Whiskey Row has turned into an annual fundraising effort to get more trees lit on the courthouse plaza.
For the past three years, Meredith has spearheaded an effort to increase the number of decorated trees. Each year, the response has grown, and this year, Meredith is confident that the effort at his bar, the Jersey Lilly Saloon, will raise enough to add two lit trees to the annual Courthouse Lighting.
Meredith said the effort began several years ago in one of the last years that former Yavapai County Supervisor Gheral Brownlow, who died in 2008, organized the courthouse lighting.
After Meredith had complained that a "black hole" seemed to exist in the lights that faced his Whiskey Row bar, he approached Brownlow to ask if any lights were left over after that year's lighting work was nearly complete.
Brownlow, who volunteered for years to help organize the lighting, told Meredith that some strings of lights were indeed left over.
Meredith said he then asked the jail trustees who were on hand to string lights in a tree that faced Whiskey Row. For that Christmas season, Meredith said no timers were available, so he and others turned the lights on each evening.
"That got things started," Meredith said, noting that some of his patrons jokingly called the tree "Tommy's tree."
The lighting changed soon after that, when the Prescott Chamber of Commerce began contracting out the plaza decorations to a consulting firm.
At that point, Meredith kicked off a fundraiser to augment the contracted amount and increase the number of lit-up trees.
Through donations of anywhere from $5 to $100, Meredith's customers, friends, and fellow businessmen have added to the kitty. This year, Meredith has strung bulb-shaped tags all along his bar, denoting the people who have donated. He estimates that the effort already has collected about $2,000, and he expects to receive at least enough to pay for two of the lit-up trees, which cost $1,076 each.
Prescott Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer David Maurer said efforts such as Meredith's have been helpful in beefing up the lights that annually adorn the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza.
Currently, Maurer said this year's effort has about $70,000 on hand. About $31,000 comes from bed tax revenue from the City of Prescott, while Maurer said the remainder comes from a variety of contributions from the private sector. "Most donors have given year after year," Maurer said.
The current contract will include the decoration of 37 trees, plus the large statehood tree, Maurer said. Because the consultant found a quicker way to string the lights on the individual trees, Maurer said the per-tree cost dropped form $1,327 to $1,076 this year.
Last year, Maurer said the lighting effort included 35 or 36 trees.
Workers already have strung some of the lights on the trees, Maurer said, and will return next week on Veterans Day to complete the work. A&B Sign Co. also will be on hand to put up other lights.
Along with its work on the plaza lighting, Maurer said the contract also covers the replacement of lights in the city's street decorations.
After getting the expected donation from Meredith and other ongoing fundraising efforts, Maurer said, "We'll be closer to $75,000 this year."
The annual Courthouse Lighting event will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4.