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Brookgreen Gardens: Prepare to book ahead for next year’s light show

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Brookgreen Gardens President Bob Jewell says the Christmas show “Nights of a Thousand Candles” has gotten so big patrons will not be able to buy tickets at the gate next year.

Only advance tickets will be sold in the future to allow Brookgreen’s staff to manage the crowds better, Jewell said. “Nights of a Thousand Candles was terrific,” he said. “This one was the best one we ever had.” Attendance over the 10 nights topped 52,600. That represents a 41 percent increase over last year’s record-breaking attendance total of 37,200 over nine nights.

Jewell said about 45 percent of the holiday light show’s revenue came from transactions at the gates, prompting the ticket policy change. “That way we can control the number of people coming into the garden,” he said. The big crowds this year blocked one lane of Highway 17 for hours, but Jewell said the second Saturday night featuring actor Bill Oberst doing a one-man version of “A Christmas Carol” was the only one that was problematic. “Everyone loves Bill Oberst,” Jewell said. “He has local appeal and since his Hollywood career has moved forward, he has regional and national appeal.”

The light show itself has broadened its reach, drawing a number of visitors from Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. “We feel it’s the premiere holiday event in South Carolina,” Jewell said, “and based on the feedback we feel that may be correct. It’s become much more regional, filling the restaurants and hotels and furthering the marketing impression for this area.”

Jewell said the mild weather was also a factor in this year’s attendance numbers. “Nine of the 10 nights were perfect,” he said. “Last Thursday it sprinkled a little, and that was the night to come. We only had about 1,800 people.”

Proceeds from the event help fund the sculpture garden, zoo and programs. “It’s become very important for us,” Jewell said. Despite room for growth, he said the event won’t go beyond 10 nights because it requires so many volunteers. “We’re trying to do the right thing for everyone,” he said.

Jon McGann, exhibit supervisor, makes it possible for Brookgreen to keep the exhibit in-house, Jewell said. “He gets everyone involved. We do it ourselves with no outside designers. This has been an evolutionary process over the past nine years and a reflection of our staff,” he said.

Those who want to see the gardens one more time in holiday lights will have an opportunity on New Year’s Eve. The gardens will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. with a scaled back entertainment schedule, a light food menu and beer, wine and champagne for sale. “For old guys like me,” Jewell said, “it’s great to come and stroll through the garden and go home and to bed. For young people, it’s a great way to start the evening.” All 1,500 tickets will be sold in advance.

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