The first Capital Holiday Parade described itself as “The Start of Something Big,” a cavalcade of balloons, floats and marching bands high-stepping along the Mall — sort of Washington’s answer to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, coming just two days later. Seats sold for as much as $25.
But at the starting time on Saturday morning, there were no cheerleaders, no equestrian teams, no celebrities smiling and waving with the Washington Monument in the background. There were just some bewildered folks wandering in the frigid air along Constitution Avenue, trying to figure out where all the clowns had gone.
“Maybe we missed it?” asked Megan Nartowicz. She and her husband, Terry, had double-checked the time and place online Friday evening before traveling 12 miles from their home at Andrews Air Force Base. After quizzing passing pedestrians for half an hour, they stood confused at the corner of 12th Street and Constitution Avenue. A reporter broke the news — the parade’s promoter had canceled the spectacle, without posting notice on the event’s Facebook page and only a belated one on its Web site.
“It’s definitely a bummer,” Terry Nartowicz said. “It’s our first year in the area, so we were hoping to see something new, something awesome.”
The change also blindsided Maurice Richardson of Washington, who bused to the Mall with an armload of gloves, hats and scarves he had hoped to peddle for as much as $300 to chilly parade watchers.
“I am crushed,” Richardson said.
City officials said they also were disappointed — but not surprised, since the event’s promoter canceled a similar pageant last winter.
Rodney Chambers, president of event promoter Asymmetrix Entertainment, said he canceled the parade on Tuesday and spread the news via e-mail after realizing he didn’t have $36,000 to cover police coverage, fire protection and cleanup. About 350 tickets had been sold, and most of the money has been refunded, he said.
“We are very saddened by this. We just couldn’t pull it off,” Chambers said Saturday. “We reached out to every company in the area for support for this parade, and we couldn’t get any.”
Deputy Mayor Paul A. Quander said city officials were finalizing preparations when Chambers asked them to contribute funding or waive fees, which is prohibited because Asymmetrix is based in Maryland.
“We always had a sense that he wasn’t going to be able to produce,” Quander said.
In a Nov. 15 news release, promoters said they were dedicating the parade to “our Nation’s educators” and planned a salute to “our returning military heroes and their families.”
“We are so excited to be launching the first holiday parade for a great city like Washington,” Ronald Covington of Asymmetrix said in the release. “The audiences will be very impressed once they see some of our great performing acts.”
LivingSocial, the online outfit where some tickets were sold, described it this way:
“Kick-off your holiday season with a bleacher seat to Washington’s newest tradition. . . . The festive event will feature magnificent marching bands from around the country, colorfully designed floats, large balloons, clowns, cheerleaders, dancers, celebrities, and more. Don’t miss your chance to be one of the first to experience this soon-to-be classic holiday tradition.”
While some parade fans did not learn of the cancellation until they arrived, complaints started popping up on the event’s Facebook page a few days earlier. At least one appeared to come from a marching band member upset that he did not have enough notice to cancel travel plans.
One man posted on Wednesday: “Have called four different numbers and three emails in two days . . . no response. Is parade still happening? Are there tickets for seating still available?”
Another posted on Thursday: “kinda wish the website would say something. my Saturday is ruined if it canceled and be even worse if i go to DC and no parade.” The same man posted again on Friday night: “Website says cancelled now . . . the night before.”
“Ridiculous,” responded another ticketholder.
On Saturday afternoon, the event’s Facebook page still had no official notice of the cancellation and continued to declare the spectacle to be Washington’s “Newest Holiday Tradition!”
On the event’s Web page, there was a note about the cancellation, though by some accounts it was not added until late Friday. It said: “We are very sad to announce that the Capital Holiday Parade has been canceled due to lack of funding to pay for District of Columbia city services.”
The notice said ticketholders would receive refunds and wished readers and their families “a wonderful holiday season.”
In the past, Asymmetrix Entertainment has primarily staged marching band competitions. Founded in 2003, the organization reported a net worth of zero in 2008 and 2009, the most recent years for which its tax returns are listed in the records of GuideStar, a nonprofit transparency organization. In 2007, Asymmetrix reported having a negative net worth of nearly $24,000.
Asymmetrix reported having three unpaid employees in 2009. Chambers reported working 40 hours a week for the group but collecting no pay. The organization listed its headquarters as an address on Crystal Brook Way in Hanover, Md., which tax records indicate is a residence co-owned by Chambers.
Back on Constitution Avenue on Saturday morning, hot dog and ice cream vendor Tuan Do declared business exceptionally slow.
“Believe me,” he said, “there’s no parade.”