5Qs: Art Van Elslander on Saving Detroit's Thanksgiving Day Parade


The Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Detroit on Thursday marks 25 years since Art Van Elslander wrote a personal check to prevent the annual holiday event — that started in 1924 — from shutting down. DBusiness Daily News talked with Van Elslander, owner and chairman of Warren-based Art Van Furniture, about his decision to save the parade, and what it means to the community at large.

1. DDN: What went into your decision to sign a check in 1990 to save the parade?

Like may others, I read the story one morning in the Detroit Free Press that the parade was in financial trouble — that it was scheduled for cancelation. When I got to the office, some of the women there talked to me about it; they were very upset and I asked: "What do you want me to do about it?" It was pretty clear what they wanted me to do, and since it was the 11th hour, I didn't have much time to think about getting other community leaders behind the effort. I wrote the check, and I believe it truly was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

2. DDN: What does the parade mean to families?

The parade represents a time when all people come together, regardless of race or religion, to celebrate. It's a joyous occasion, and brings family and friends close. There is a sense of community that you just don't get at any other time. My family, like so many others, has wonderful memories of the parade. It has become an annual tradition for my children and their children to walk in the parade, and I have ridden in it each year since 1990.

3. DDN: Why is the parade important to the City of Detroit?

It means Detroit remains a strong and vibrant community, and that we have much to celebrate. Our parade has become the second largest in the United States, and that is something we should all be proud of. Tony Michaels (president and CEO of the Parade Company) and the staff and volunteers at the Parade Company have done an outstanding job. It's a magical day when people forget their troubles and it's truly a source of pride and celebration for the City of Detroit.

4. DDN: How has the parade changed since 1990?

As the parade has grown, its national exposure has grown too, which is just a tremendous thing for the City of Detroit and the people of Michigan. It has been wonderful to see other community leaders come on board — I know Henry Ford Hospital will have its first float ever this year to celebrate its 100th anniversary. That's a wonderful thing — it takes all of us working together to ensure the parade remains a Detroit treasure for generations to come.

5. DDN: What are you more looking forward to at this year's parade?

One thing that never gets old is riding along the parade route and seeing the faces of kids. It doesn't matter how cold it is, their faces light up with delight. This year in particular, there is real pride within the city, and such good things are happening here. I expect it will be a lot of fun, and I'm really looking forward to being part of it.​