Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Has a Secret NJ Element

The creative process happens at the Macy’s Parade Studio in Moonachie, located in Bergen County.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
All the fanciful balloons, floats and costumes for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are created at the store’s New Jersey studio, then transported through the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan the night before the parade. Courtesy of Macy’s, Inc.

An essential element of one of New York’s most iconic events is right here in New Jersey.  

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—which organizers expect to be “closer to its original form” this year after 2020’s scaled-down festivities—snakes through the streets of Manhattan each November, but the creative process happens at the Macy’s Parade Studio in Moonachie, located in Bergen County.

The 72,000-square-foot facility is a veritable “fantasy world,” where about 30 artisans work year-round to create the parade’s iconic floats, massive balloons and flashy costumes, says Rick Pomer, creative director for Macy’s Branded Entertainment.

“Soup to nuts, it’s all there,” he says of the studio, which moved to Moonachie in 2011 from the old Tootsie Roll factory in Hoboken. “It’s incredibly overwhelming how much creativity and imagination is at hand.”

Inside the Macy's Parade Studio

Parade elements from floats, to balloons, to small but important details, are created in the Moonachie studio. Courtesy of Macy’s, Inc

On a typical day at the studio, the action starts early—around 7 am. Most artists and makers have more than one skill set, says Pomer. A sculptor, for example, might also paint, while a welder might have carpentry chops, too. At any given moment, one person might be sculpting giant blocks of foam in one area of the warehouse, while another is sewing costumes. 

With 30 employees and a massive studio space, social distancing was never an issue, even in pre-pandemic times. Now, the facility requires masks and daily wellness checks for everyone working in-house on the upcoming 95th annual parade.

Each year, the team typically makes between four and six new floats, and between three and five giant balloons. The several dozen being reused are stored in a different, nearby facility, and are given touchups and refurbishments as the parade draws closer. Work on the 2021 parade began almost immediately after Santa gave his final wave at the 2020 event.

Inside the Macy's Parade Studio

There will be 4,500 costumes in this year’s parade. Courtesy of Macy’s, Inc

Among the new creations this year are a four-story-high balloon of 8-year-old Ada from the Netflix series Ada Twist, Scientist, and a Heinz gravy boat “floa-lloonicle,” a new type of creation that is part float, part balloon and part vehicle (and features some pretty fun-looking “gravy pirates” aboard). Then there are the perennial favorites, like Snoopy, the longest-running character balloon in the parade,

After the parade elements are completed in New Jersey comes the difficult task of transporting them into Manhattan. So how is it done? 

“Everything is built in New Jersey and needs to go through the Lincoln Tunnel,” Pomer says. “They’re big, 3 1/2 stories tall. That’s not going through Lincoln Tunnel as is. Everything has to collapse to 8 1/2 feet wide by 12 1/2 feet tall.”

After a “giant convoy of trucks” takes the pieces through one tube of the tunnel, which is shut down to other drivers, they are reassembled on-site in Manhattan the night before the parade.

The action kicks off on Thanksgiving Day at 9 am at Central Park West and 77th Street. There are 2.5 miles of public viewing spots along the route, which ends at the Macy’s flagship in Herald Square. Vaccinations are not required for the general public watching the parade live, but vaccinations are required for volunteer participants and staff (with a few exceptions) that day.

The parade airs live on NBC, with Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker hosting.

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