The sound of Christmas is a little different this year at one north Napa shopping center: The kettle collectors stationed in front of in Bel Aire Plaza have surrendered their traditional handbells.
Instead, volunteers are waving a pair of laminated cards decorated with bells marked “ding” and “dong,” to solicit donations for the long-time Christmas program to help the needy.
The silencing of the bells follows complaints from some plaza merchants and their customers, according to the Salvation Army.
“They never stop.”
Paul Erias, owner of , two doors down from Trader Joe’s, said “I have no problem with the Salvation Army and their cause.”
The bells affect him, Erias said, because his door is about 25 feet from where the bell-ringers set up shop each year.
“I have no air conditioning, so when weather permits, I leave the front door open for fresh air,” said Erias. That’s when the bell-ringing has been a problem, he explained:
“They never stop. It’s not ring, ring, ring, then a period of quiet. It’s continuous ringing. My customers have complained,” Erias said.
“I am the only on-site proprietor in the center. I’m the one who has to tell people sitting outside to not smoke and keep their dogs from doing their business in front of my door. I have had people set up tables to sell things right in front of my store window.
“Like I said, I’m the only owner that’s in their business daily. The rest are corporations. They don’t care. They can’t see and hear these problems.”
“Peet’s is in favor of us ringing the bells"
is also just a few feet from the Salvation Army donation kettle. Company spokeswoman Elizabeth Sgarrella said in an e-mail, “Peet’s has not banned the Salvation Army from bell ringing.
“It has requested that the Salvation Army do so (ring the bells) a few feet from Peet’s (outside) seating area,” Sgarrella’s email continued.
Trader Joe’s has not complained, said spokesman Carlos Domitri:
“We have no problem with the bell ringers. Although the ringing can be a bit loud at times, especially if there is more than one volunteer. But Trader Joe’s has not asked the Salvation Army to stop ringing the bells,” Domitri said.
volunteer Barry Thompson said the Peet’s district manager even offered the Rotary ringers some jingle bells to ring.
“Peet’s is in favor of us ringing the bells out there,” Thompson said.
Sunrise Rotary volunteers John Kasten and Jerry Johnson have been ringing bells and collecting Salvation Army kettle donations for four Christmases.
“Without the bells, we have had trouble getting people’s attention. They are used to hearing it,” Johnson said.
Kastem said without the bell, “We have to make sure we make connection with the people walking by. We are never aggressive and whether people donate or not, we wish them a good day and a Merry Christmas.”
Johnson added, “It’s all about giving to help others. Bells or no bells. The message is the same.”
Napans have their say
Napa resident Paula Mettler, who was sitting at an outside table just a few feet from the Salvation Army kettle, said, “I did’t even notice they weren’t ringing the bell until you said something. I guess the ringing can be a little annoying, but it is Christmas, and it only happens once a year.”
Other Bel-Aire Plaza customers also had their say about the banished bells.
“I think it kind of sucks. It is Christmas, and the Salvation Army red kettles with the bell ringers have been around ever since I can remember,” said Joan Strongbird.
“There are a lot of things that are annoying at Christmas time like the crowds, the stress and expense. But the ringing of a little bell? ... come on,” Strongbird said.
Cathy Lapper said, “Of course, I don’t have to listen to it for hours on end. But it’s Christmas, get over it.”
Capt. Trish Poochigian with the Napa Salvation Army said,
“We are here to hear the community’s concerns. The bell ringers are tradition, but the message is the most important thing.
“I understand the ringing can be annoying. We train our people not to be so aggressive with the bell. So if there are complaints, we want to address them.”