Visualize festive alleyways of open-air stalls selling warm beverages, hot foods, baked goods, and local crafts in the weeks leading up to the winter holidays. People of all ages meander through the crowd, greeting neighbors. Perhaps they decide to enjoy ice skating with friends, or share a mulled cider while they warm up around an intimate bonfire. Children gather in groups to enjoy the carousel ride, or wait for their turn to visit with Father Christmas.
For those of you who have traveled to Europe, this scene probably evokes the “Christkindlmarkts” of cities in Germany, Austria, and other old-world countries.
Starting in early December, local residents and visitors will be able to enjoy this type of merry village scene in Mullica Hill, but with a delightful twist that highlights the benevolent spirit of the holidays.
This exciting new project is the brainchild of local developer and East Greenwich Township resident Steve Harbaugh, whose annual holiday light display inspired the idea.
Harbaugh’s display was based on the 1989 Christmas Vacation movie starring Chevy Chase, complete with movie props including cousin Eddie’s RV, the family station wagon, the police car, and Clark and Eddie characters. It quickly became a local phenomenon which also attracted visitors from neighboring states.
The display began in 2018 by Harbaugh, his wife Gina, and their three children as a way to bring holiday cheer to the area and also to collect toys for underprivileged children.
It became so popular that it was featured on ABC’s Action News in 2020 and garnered over 12,000 toys and $40,000 in cash donations that same year.
Realizing that the popularity of his display had outgrown the neighborhood setting, Harbaugh approached Harrison Township Mayor Louis Manzo in 2021 with his vision.
In addition to a reproduction based on his light display to collect toys and raise funds for those in need, Harbaugh proposed an entire holiday village in Mullica Hill, complete with vendor stands, an ice-skating rink, enclosed seating areas, a carousel, sleigh rides, live entertainment, and a Santa Claus visitation area.
Harbaugh’s idea was reviewed, refined, and accepted, and the Harbaugh Village is set to open to the public the weekend after Thanksgiving of this year.
The market stalls will not compete with local businesses, but will enhance those that already exist as brick-and mortar shops, and Harbaugh is confident that the village will be a boon to those businesses.
“I can’t tell you the amount of people who would come to our home at 4 o’clock when it was still light out, ask where they could grab a bite to eat, and then come back to see the lights when it was dark,” began Harbaugh.
“The local restaurants will benefit, and since our weekends will be busy with ice skating and entertainment throughout the day, I can see folks strolling down Main Street to check out what Mullica Hill has to offer,” he added.
Participating merchants will include:
D-Signed for you: paint, small furniture, custom cups, shirts, signs, décor and furnishings, to-go craft kits for children and adults
Farmhouse Design: candles, décor, throws pillows, Christmas décor
Brew x Bread: coffee, hot chocolate, drinks, s’more kits, snacks
Madame Chili Peppers: children’s clothing, mommy and me outfits, rock and roll clothing and accessories, kid’s jewelry bags, baby accessories
Serendipity X1X: women’s accessories, ponchos, scarves, hats, gloves, jewelry, handbags
The Artisan Marshmallow Co: marshmallows, hot chocolate
Cherry On Top: gourmet chocolates, hot chocolate floats, candy dishes, mugs
The Dressing Room on Main: sweatshirts, holiday tees, hats, sweaters, gloves, hats
Flossy’s: fancy ear puffs for adults and kids, purses, stockings, and sweaters, ponchos
The Parsonage: antiques, collectables, Christmas décor
Deeply Rooted, Perfect Blend: vintage and antique décor, Christmas décor, teas, gift basket items
Urbanhouse Salon: holiday-themed hair styling
Thomas + Main: seasonal merchandise, jewelry, home décor, baby items, bar merchandise, apparel
Harrison House Restaurant: food
The Cake Boutique: cupcakes, baked goods
Naples at the Warehouse: Italian food
Blue Plate: food
The village will be located along Route 77 in Mullica Hill across from the Mullica Hill Commons shopping plaza, next to the water tower. There will be ample parking and open areas for possible expansion of the village and its attractions in subsequent years. Plans are also being considered to open the village for other festive events throughout the calendar year.
Mayor Manzo explained that although the site is township property, no expenses will be incurred by the municipality or its taxpayers.
“The Harbaugh Village project is privately funded and will not require a contribution from the municipality and its taxpayers. In fact, the owner will pay an annual lease fee to the township for the property and they will cover any additional costs for policing or traffic controls that are required,” assured Manzo.
When asked about the concern that some residents may have about the parking situation, Harbaugh elaborated.
“We have created plenty of parking along with additional overflow in the front of the property that we are currently working on now. This along with having a longer entrance road for stack traffic will help out tremendously.”
“The ticketing on the ice-skating rink along with the sleigh ride will be scheduled for timeslots which will help spread out the attendance as well,” he continued.
Harbaugh said that in the spirit of continuing the philanthropic vision of the original light display, visitors will be asked to bring a toy or pay a small fee to enter the village.
Harbaugh explained more about his vision for the village.
“We were known for the Griswold House, yes a fun theme, but I wanted the village to be different. I envisioned a classy place. A place where Hallmark would want to shoot a movie.”
“Harbaugh Village will feature the Harbaugh House—a decked out house that models the one visitors from all around the country have come to see. This year, we plan to break our record and fill the whole HOUSE with toys,” he exclaimed.
The village is also bound to become a popular attraction for locals, who won’t have to travel far to experience the community-centered project.
“I’m a local resident myself and I would love to have a place to take my children where they can ice skate, go on a sleigh ride in light show and visit with Santa, along with teaching them to bring a toy for others who don’t have the Christmas they do,” said Harbaugh.
Harbaugh explained that the village will also boast an event and entertainment tent, further adding to its boon to the local economy.
“The structured event tent will be called the Evergreen. When you’re inside you will not even know you are in a tent, as our event designer Meghan Papiano of the House of Catherine did a wonderful job, and local residents are already booking holiday parties here.”
In addition to providing a cozy and picturesque site for residents to gather and an opportunity to bolster area merchants, the unique vision of the village will be its philanthropic mission.
“We will continue to give toys to Saint Christopher’s Hospital through Kelly’s Kids, which is Bob Kelly’s foundation from Fox 29, [and to] families in Gloucester County,” said Harbaugh.
Harbaugh explained that the 2020 season was most notable after a local charity organizer, Noreen Owens, teamed up with him to provide toys to underprivileged families in Camden. In doing so, he learned that Noreen and her seven kids were displaced and living in a motel during the pandemic.
Harbaugh’s crew got together to give Owens and her family a home, stocked with food and furniture, and expenses paid for a year.
“[It provided] a level of safety that they need to get back on their feet,” Harbaugh explained.
All of this prompted Harbaugh and his team to create The Harbaugh Housefoundation, which will not only provide toys for families who need a little extra help around the holidays, but also tackle the bigger challenge of providing shelter for displaced families.
“Noreen Owens, along with many others, will be a key player in this initiative,” detailed Harbaugh.
Harbaugh goes on to describe Owen’s role in bringing his chartable cause to fruition.
“She has helped us tremendously with ideas for distributing to folks who genuinely need it in the Camden area. We will continue this relationship, and Noreen and her family are going to be working at the new village, along with organizing trips for children to visit the village, visit with Santa, and receive toys,” he added.
Harbaugh explained how the charity will work in conjunction with the for-profit village and its merchants.
“Our charity, the Harbaugh House, will operate at the Harbaugh Village. The village is for-profit, which covers the expenses and overhead of the charity. So the idea is that every dollar that goes into the charity gets directly distributed it to those in need,” he explained.
“When folks come out and they pay for ice-skating, a sleigh ride, or food and beverages, they can feel confident that they are contributing as well to the charity,” Harbaugh emphasized.
When visiting the site and speaking to Harbaugh about his vision, his heartfelt excitement about complementing the community while helping those in need, is evident.
Mayor Manzo also looks to the future of this noteworthy project in his growing community.
“We are excited to see this venue come to life and the enhancement it will bring with it,” he concluded.
Updates and news about the Harbaugh Village will be available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/harbaughvillage and on their website at harbaughvillage.com