GREENWICH, CT — Each holiday season, Alyssa Keleshian Bonomo looks forward to seeing her husband and son string white lights around a tree outside their Greenwich home.
Though the display is nothing elaborate, it still makes her family smile every time they look at it.
"I don't know what it is," Bonomo said. "Maybe it just lights you up from the inside out, but [holiday lights] bring a smile to your face, and I think that's what everybody needs so desperately right now: to smile."
It is a joy she hopes to bring out with a more elaborate display she is working on this year. Along with her partner, Sebastian Dostmann, Bonomo is working with the town to ensure holiday lights are strung through the trees along Greenwich Avenue this year, a longstanding tradition that, sadly, went dark last year.
According to Dostmann, stringing lights along the avenue actually began in the late 70's when a group of merchants came together to put them up. Since then, various groups have pitched in to set the lights up with varying success each year.
"It kind of went back and forth for a couple years," Dostmann said. "Obviously it's not a cheap initiative, so fundraising is a little difficult."
In 2018, Bonomo decided to take on the responsibility of fundraising for the project. Working with two other partners, she reached out to property owners, banks and other institutions in town and was able to raise the necessary funds.
"I didn't want the lights to go dark [in 2018]," Bonomo said. "I'm a property owner in town, but I'm also a lifelong resident, and I really love the spirit that the lights bring to our downtown."
Bonomo said she hoped someone would be able to take over the fundraising initiative last year, but the avenue ultimately went dark for the holidays.
Earlier this year, Dostmann decided to step in and let the town know he was interested in helping bring the lights back to the avenue this holiday season. He met with Bonomo and First Selectman Fred Camillo in January, and the group was able to secure vendors.
In August, Dostmann and Bonomo officially launched their fundraising efforts for the "Let There Be Lights" project, and even built a website though which residents and merchants can donate to support the cause.
"The goal is to create a vibrant downtown," Dostmann said, "and give people a reason to get out, go for a walk and maybe visit a merchant on the avenue and do their holiday shopping, or dine outside...under the lit trees."
For Dostmann, who was born and raised in Greenwich and currently works in town, the holiday lights along the avenue are a treasured tradition.
"It's something that I always enjoyed seeing growing up," Dostmann said, "It's an impactful sight when you turn [onto] the top of Greenwich Avenue, and it's always nice to continue traditions."
Dostmann and Bonomo are also cognizant of the fact that many businesses along the avenue will need extra support this holiday season, as many have been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
"This year hasn't been the greatest year given the circumstances," Dostmann said, "and it's been tough for retailers and restaurants, so I hope this draws some people down there to help support them, as well as bring a little joy, even if it's just for an evening stroll."
According to Bonomo, this holiday season will be critical for businesses in town.
"With so much uncertainty this holiday selling season," Bonomo said, "the tradition of lighting the downtown will bring so much joy that our residents need at this moment and some sort of continuity, while at the same time it creates a festive atmosphere that's going to hopefully encourage strollers, shoppers and diners to come out and support the community."
Marcia O'Kane, president of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has long-supported holiday lights in town and hopes the project will bring some much-needed happiness to the downtown area.
"We are again one of the many proud sponsors of this event," O'Kane said, "and encourage everyone to contribute to this effort which, during an extremely challenging year, will provide joy to shoppers, residents, businesses and visitors."
According to Dostmann, the Board of Selectmen and the town's parks and recreation department have very been supportive of the project and have helped them see it through from conception to installation, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 9.
The lights will hopefully be lit Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, Dostmann said.
Selectwoman Lauren Rabin said she was glad to see the lights would be coming back this year and the board was doing its best to promote the project.
"I think it was really sad to not have the lights [last year]," Rabin said. "I think it's something that just brings cheer and joy to the community. Certainly this year, with what everybody is experiencing, it's going to be just a really nice thing to see and participate in."
Rabin said they were also discussing with the group how much money could be raised to keep the lights on longer this year, possibly into the month of January, as well as how they could create a "longer term" relationship.
"[The lights] just bring joy," Rabin said, "especially at a time where I think people would look for joy in their lives."
Dostmann said he "absolutely" will be involved in the project again next year, as its something he's very passionate about.
"I think the results are going to be great, and I'm happy to do it," Dostmann said. "We've had a lot of enthusiasm from the community this year, even give the situation, so hopefully we can carry that on and, having built out a website, we can keep the momentum going."
Bonomo said she was happy to be part of a tradition that brings people together, especially during a year when many have had to be apart from each other, and that so many residents have rallied behind the project.
"The residential support has been overwhelming," Bonomo said, "and that just goes to show you what Greenwich is made of. We're a warm, welcoming and giving community."