Thursday, residents of Columbia got a taste of just about everything The Vista has to offer during the 30th annual Vista Lights festival. It was a great opportunity for members of the community of all ages to check out a new store or restaurant that they perhaps didn’t know existed.
Stephanie Galloway is a genetic counseling graduate student at the University of South Carolina.
“It’s a fun kick-off of the holiday season to kind of get the community together and … promote local business,” Galloway said.
The festival was focused around the annual tree lighting by Mayor Steve Benjamin and Major General Roger Cloutier Jr. of Fort Jackson. In addition to the tree lighting, audience members could watch holiday performances from local dance and music groups or peruse offerings from one of the 90 businesses participating in the event.
One of most unique businesses open to the public was Studio O2, a salon and spa that held a drawing and offered free Glomineral lipstick applications, Topper’s Rhum samplings, hors d’oeuvres and an oxygen bar. The inside looked more like a chic boutique than your average salon and was packed with intrigued festival-goers.
In addition to Studio O2, other popular festival spots included Longhorn Steakhouse, SakiTumi, Carolina Ale House, Mellow Mushroom, Pearlz and World of Beer, which offered specials on winter craft beers.
Several of these locations additionally offered samples of these beers and wines at tables set up outside. Adults could purchase a wristband at the welcome table on Lincoln Street where fourth-year accounting student Arnold Zhong was volunteering.
Zhong said he learned about volunteering at the event through his fraternity, Gamma Iota Sigma.
“This is my first year (at the festival), and I actually didn’t know that Vista Lights existed,” Zhong said. “It’s a great experience.”
Kids were able to take part in the fun as well. Rita’s Italian Ice offered activities with chalk and bubbles, while The Peanut Man had ornaments for children to decorate. Even Paul Mitchell The School Columbia set up a face painting area for kids (or adults) to show off their holiday spirit.
Additionally, all could enjoy the various food samples served. The spinach filet mignon dip from The Carolina Strip Club was particularly delightful, and southern specialties like shrimp and grits, pralines and barbecue were, of course, crowd pleasers.
Alongside the vendors, local musicians set the mood for the event with live performances on every street. The festival was truly alive and glowing with the warmth and atmosphere of the holidays. And, with so many things to watch, hear, taste and try, it’s clear the festival has grown exponentially since last year.
Andrew Pirie, a third-year political science student, worked at the festival last year through his job at Pearlz.
“[This year there is] about triple the amount of people,” Pirie said. “Last year, it was about 30 degrees outside. This year, it’s beautiful.”
Galloway agreed with that this year’s festival was better.
“I came last year,” she said. “There are a lot more people and a lot more vendors open.”
Vista Lights should see continuous growth and success in its 31st anniversary next year as more students and members of the community become aware of the festival and more businesses gain interest.