Auburn’s second annual Mardi Gras parade came through downtown Saturday evening, drawing hundreds of residents to College Street.
The Thach Concourse on Auburn University’s campus was filled with participants well before the parade’s start at 5 p.m., stretching from the intersection of College Street and Thach Avenue all the way down the hill to the Haley Center.
Ward 3 City Councilwoman Beth Witten, a member of the Krewe de Tigris, directed floats and trucks into their positions before the parade’s start. She said that the Krewe had been planning this year’s parade as soon as last year’s ended.
“I think people saw the overwhelming success we had with the first year, and so we have more float participants this year because of that, and we’ve extended the route because people wanted to see it longer,” Witten said. “[The parade] definitely just brings a sense of community, an energetic atmosphere and a sense of place for Auburn and the surrounding communities.”
Trucks hauling floats depicting 18th-century sailboats, statues of exotic animals, dragons and an array of others were present in the line, with most covered in green, purple and gold streaming.
Downtown Auburn was similarly decorated, with tri-colored balloons and ribbons adorning the metal railing of College Street’s sidewalks to mark the occasion as loudspeakers at Bourbon Street Bar blasted Mardi Gras-inspired music throughout downtown.
The intersection at Toomer’s Corner was packed with people 20 minutes before the event officially began with a mixture of Auburn students, residents and children who began to crowd around one side of the road, looking south in anticipation of the procession to come.
As two police motorcyclists came down College Street the parade went into full swing, with Aubie throwing beads out of the back of a silver convertible to the crowd cheering his name, a golden oversized truck carrying the Krewe de Tigris in full tiger regalia in its packed-out bed and a myriad of other colorful and creative floats and attractions planned by businesses and groups passionate about celebrating the holiday.
Brandon Stoker, an Auburn resident who watched the parade with friends in town from Columbus, Georgia, said that, despite the weather, this year’s parade was an improvement upon last year’s.
“I think it was pretty fun, and I actually think this one was a little bit better organized, and the floats were a whole lot better-looking,” Stoker said. “I was born and raised here, so seeing the town being a little bit more open to having parties in the street and blocking out downtown so people can come in and have fun and keep it kid friendly as well, I like it a lot, and I think Auburn has grown a lot in the last few years with that mindset.”
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The parade procession finished passing Toomer’s corner within 45 minutes, just as a light rain began to fall and the parade watchers began dispersing into downtown restaurants, leaving College Street littered with broken beads, novelty plastic and MoonPie wrappers, which were all cleaned up within the hour by employees of the City of Auburn’s Environmental Services Department.
Downtown restaurants were bustling after the parade, with the line at Little Italy stretching from the counter to the door, the patio of Quixote’s filled and spilling out into the sidewalk and Moe’s Bar B Que packed.
The increased traffic in downtown businesses was no doubt influenced by the Downtown Merchants Association’s addition to the event called the “Krewe Crawl,” in which wristbands were sold for $10 each and allowed its wearers to have access to special discounts at participating restaurants and not have to pay cover fees at participating bars.
Downtown Coordinator Jessica Kohn said both the parade and the Krewe Crawl were successes and that turnout was much better than she had anticipated given the weather.
“We had no clue what to expect because this is the first year we’ve done the Krewe Crawl, so I ordered 1,000 wristbands, and we sold out,” Kohn said. “I was extremely pleased, obviously, and I’m just ecstatic with the turnout for the Krewe Crawl and just really appreciate everybody’s support of the downtown merchants because this enables us to fund future events for downtown or hire bands on Friday nights before football games. Overall, just a fantastic day in downtown.”
As time passed after the parade’s end, the rain began to fall harder, the traffic began to recirculate through downtown and the businesses were filled with patrons celebrating Mardi Gras late into the night.