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Detroit’s nearly century old Thanksgiving Parade returns to pre-pandemic glory

Crowds watch floats drive by during America's Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit
The Parade Company
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America's Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit is back after a hiatus due to the pandemic

Last year, Detroit residents—and over 180 syndicated TV markets around the country— were unable to experience the in-person joy of America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit, known for high school bands, clowns and floats.

This year, it’s back and so are the people.

America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit dates back to 1924, the same year Macy’s launched its Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

In 2020, The Parade Company president and CEO Tony Michaels, the force behind Detroit’s Thanksgiving day tradition, was planning for an audience-less parade on a small section of the typical route in downtown Detroit. But five days before the parade, he was told that it wouldn’t be able to happen downtown.

“We had to change immediately,” Michaels said. “We then taped the new floats right behind our parade facility here on one of the streets.”

His team created and filmed the two-hour 2020 parade which was broadcasted nationally.

“But this year we're back,” he said. “And Woodward Avenue is going to be phenomenal just as in years past.”

Over the weekend, The Parade Company hosted their annual fundraiser, the Hob Nobble Gobble. Marshall said indoor event guidelines were adhered to, and that it went “really, really well.”

“Some people wore masks, some didn't,” he said. “But we had hand sanitizer everywhere.”

Michaels says that he’s taking COVID safety seriously, and that the outdoor nature of the parade lends itself to increased social distancing, as viewers can spread themselves out along its 2.7 mile route.

“We have to be very sensitive. People lost their lives. It is still out there,” he said of the virus, but noted that vaccinations have helped people feel comfortable in resuming activities they were doing before the pandemic.

Beyond just mitigating the spread of COVID, Michaels said that his team is taking protocols to keep everyone safe during the parade, something that has been top of mind for people. Earlier this week, a motorist drove through a crowd amid a holiday parade in Waukesha, Wis., killing five people and injuring 40.

In Detroit, trucks will monitor crowds from side streets, and the Detroit Police Department will be present. Michaels also said that floats take up most of one side of the road, which he said would make it more difficult for a tragedy like the one in Waukesha to happen in Detroit.

Despite all of the concerns, Michaels said that people are eager for this year’s parade, which will feature some new faces.

Michaels said there are five brand-new floats from organizations ranging from universities, health systems and foundations as well as the parade’s 20 existing floats.

This year’s grand marshals will be former Detroit Lions wide receiver and NFL hall-of-fame member Calvin Johnson, and Bishop Edgar Vann of Detroit's Second Ebenezer Church. Marla Drutz, general manager of WDIV-TV in Detroit, will be an honorary grand marshal.

Stevie Wonder’s head will join the growing army of papier-mache heads featuring Detroit legends from Aretha Franklin to Dave Bing to Bob Seger to Tom Selleck.

America’s Thanksgiving Parade starts on the corner of Kirby and Woodward in Detroit at 8:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving day. It will be broadcasted live on www.clickondetroit.com and WDIV Local 4 as well as 104.3 WOMC starting at 10:00 a.m.

“We're glad that we are able to pull off this number one tradition in the state of Michigan,” Marshall said. “People want to get back and want to get back to normal now.”

Claire Murashima is a production assistant for Stateside.
Mike Blank is a producer and editor for Stateside.
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