The Daily Gamecock

Vista Lights festival promotes food, fun and holiday festivity in downtown Columbia

Locals in the Columbia area were able to experience an early taste of the holidays on by attending Vista Lights. Vista Lights is hosted by the Vista Guild, an organization in Columbia that oversees the Vista and puts on events in the popular shopping and dining district.

The tradition of Vista Lights has been going on for the last three decades and the tradition continued on Thursday, Nov. 15. As families walked hand-in-hand down the streets of the Vista, they were able to experience authentic dining, live music and get a head start on their holiday shopping. Many vendors greeted customers in festive costumes and big smiles, exhibiting holiday spirit a month early. 

Midlands Media Group, a part of Vista Guild, is in its second year of helping with Vista Lights. Meera Bhonslé, a multimedia journalist with Midlands Media Group and USC alumna, helped work a booth in the kid’s area while sporting an elf costume. 

“[Vista Lights] is just a little festival kind of ringing in the holiday season," said Bhonslé. "They do the tree lighting here on Gervais Street and there are vendors from all over the Midlands and especially Columbia so a lot of local stuff. Restaurants and shops on the strip stay open late so that shoppers can come in and out and get ... holiday shopping started and lots of fun stuff for the kids."

Marie Stover, vice president of marketing and client services at Midlands Media Group, was in charge of running a station for children. Midlands Media Group is the sponsor of the children's area of Vista Lights.

“We are a locally owned and operated media company," Stover said. "We have the two radio stations and a digital newspaper, and literally we all live here and work here and shop here. We're not owned by big corporation."

Though the booth technically wasn’t supposed to be open until 6 p.m., excited customers started arriving as early as 5 p.m. All of the kid’s activities were free and holiday themed. 

Sara Ann Russo, studio director at Freeway Music and USC alumna, was another returning vendor to Vista Lights. With an eclectic range of instruments, Freeway Music students came out in full force for the festival, performing a wide variety of Christmas classics for a packed audience.

“It’s huge ... No matter what your beliefs are, people love that sort of music. So, it's a way to really unite everybody and put a smile on peoples' faces,” Russo said.

While some vendors have been regulars at the festival for many years, it is the first time for others. Christina Mills, a local chef and chocolatier, was excited about her inaugural year at the festival. 

Mills traveled around a lot and worked in European kitchens before coming back to Columbia. Upon her arrival, she realized that locals had been missing out on what authentic chocolate was supposed to taste like. She welcomed the idea of being a newcomer to the Vista Lights vendor crowd with open arms. 

“This is our first year out here at Vista Lights," said Mills. "We've actually sold out of our chocolate boxes ...we are really excited to be out here and share the festivities with Columbia."

Mills uses fresh ingredients in her chocolates, such as ganache and caramel. When she’s not busy tabling at festivals, Malls can be found in her office space on Millwood Avenue.  

The festivities proved to be joyous occasion for many attendees, regardless of age. 

Jonah Sain, a fourth-year finance and political science student at USC, enjoyed the bright ambiance of the event.

“We are in the front of the Christmas tree, by the Blue Marlin, a great place in The Vista ... I just see the lights and I want to go there," said Sain. "I am really enjoying myself, it’s a great atmosphere."

Ariana Mount, a fourth-year broadcast journalism student at USC, also wanted to make sure she made an appearance at the festival.

“We came last year for a little bit kind of at the tail end, so we wanted to come this year to see the live music and ... get in the Christmas spirit," Mount said.  

Though the night came to an end at 10 p.m., the holiday spirit gained by many attendees will likely continue into the holiday season.