Holiday Magic on Main Street

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As the holidays draw to a close, what better time to take a look at the holiday magic that brings our Main Streets alive during this festive season. Downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts are the perfect canvas for winter celebrations, bringing revelers together to enjoy light shows, caroling, and special shopping experiences with local merchants. So take a stroll through our holiday roundup of stories, photos, and videos and see how Main Street and its businesses thrived amid the holiday hoopla!

Living Windows in Ripon, Wisconsin

SOTW_12-28-12HolidayRoundup_RiponWindowChristmas shopping can be a chore—standing elbow to elbow with frantic shoppers sweeping shelves of last-minute gifts. Not in Ripon, Wisconsin, though, where you can shop to your heart’s content while being entertained by talented performers right in the store windows. As part of their Dickens of a Christmas festival, Ripon’s Living Windows this year featured a barbershop quartet, a blacksmith, singing puppets, and more. On the evening of November 30th, 30 downtown businesses put up living displays in 35 windows to re-enact Victorian life in the 19th century.

“We had a list of ideas, but I was very impressed by how creative people were in putting together displays that pertained to their businesses,” said Paula Price, director of the Ripon Chamber of Commerce. A jewelry store did a re-enactment of the California Gold Rush, with kids panhandling for gold. The League of Women’s Voters portrayed women’s suffrage, and a restaurant highlighted the invention of soda water in 1832. With fine weather that evening, they had an awesome turnout, with at least 3,000 people strolling about the downtown.

Happy Holidays in New Hampshire

SOTW_12-28-12HolidayRoundup_WinterGiftopolisMain Street Senior Program Officer Kathy LaPlante sent us a couple of her top holiday picks from New Hampshire. Midnight Merriment, a 20-year-old event in Concord, is Kathy’s favorite shopping event of the year. Held on Dec 7th from 5:30 p.m. to midnight, this downtown shopping extravaganza sees Concord’s local businesses going all out to draw customers into their stores, with discount specials, refreshments, and lavish decorations on their historic buildings.

Other highlights organized by the Concord Main Street program to entice families downtown include the Winter Giftopolis, a one-night-only arts and crafts market with more than 20 vendors, storytelling events at a 19th-century Victorian mansion, roving caroling groups, and the chance to both send letters to and meet Santa and his elves.

Forty miles south, in the city of Nashau, the annual Winter Holiday Stroll, held on Nov 24th, began with a candlelight procession up Main Street to the city’s official tree-lighting ceremony in Railroad Square. Most of downtown is closed to traffic for this evening event, and strollers can walk leisurely and enjoy food from street vendors, musicians, and other entertainers as they make their way to the Christmas tree. With the event now over, Downtown Nashau is sending attendees online surveys to get ideas to improve next year’s event. Those who filled out the survey were entered in a raffle to win gift baskets valued at more than $300 each – which Kathy thinks is a nice touch.

Stockyards City Cowboy Christmas Parade, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

SOTW_12-28-12HolidayRoundup_StockyardsCityStockyard City’s Cowboy Christmas Parade has been going on for so many years that Cookie Hill, director of Stockyards City Main Street, can never get anyone to give her a specific starting date. The annual parade, held on December 1st this year, kicked off with a cattle drive of Texas Longhorn, a breed deeply rooted in Stockyard City’s pioneer history. The city’s Oklahoma National Stockyards, founded in 1910, remains the largest cattle market in the world.

“In the past, the cattle used to be led into the city by cowboys, now they bring them in by the truckload,” said Cookie. But a team of real cowboys still herd the longhorns through the city, along with the Grand Marshall’s horseback posse headed by the local sheriff. With almost five thousand people turning out to watch a total of 61 entries in the parade, Cookie said this year’s was the biggest parade they’ve ever had. Other highlights included all kinds of equestrians, from drill teams to rodeo people and roundup clubs; Howdy and Slim, two 1,500-pound longhorns that take passengers; miniature horses pulling little carts; llamas bedecked in festive bells; and even a Cowboy Santa who gave every child in the crowd a toy from his wagon.

Also, this year, the Travel Channel visited Stockyards City to film the parade for its Top Parades in America feature next year, and we’re all looking forward to watching it!

The Big, Bright Light Show, Rochester, Michigan

SOTW_12-28-12HolidayRoundup_RochesterMIThe Big, Bright Light Show was created seven years ago, in 2005, says DDA Executive Director Kristi Trevarrow, in an effort to attract people downtown and really put Rochester on the map for the holidays. “We knew that we could not compete with the advertising budgets of the big-box stores and local malls, so we had to create something that would make Downtown Rochester a must-visit holiday destination. We chose to focus on creating a unique experience, something we hoped would attract visitors from across the state.”

Launched in 2006, The Big, Bright Light Show started with 500,000 LED (light-emitting diode) holiday lights that blanketed four blocks of Downtown Rochester's Main Street. On opening night, more than 30,000 people filled the streets to see the show. More than a million visitors found their way to Downtown Rochester during the 35 days of the show. Merchants reported an average 29 percent increase in business compared to the same period the previous year.

In 2007, the show was expanded to include one million lights covering eight blocks of Main Street and several side streets, while new event areas on the east and west sides of downtown drew traffic to off-Main Street businesses. The new events included the Snowflake Spectacular – a dazzling display of 60 giant snowflakes that flash to the beat of holiday music every 15 minutes; Candy Cane Lane – featuring larger-than-life animated displays of giant toys; and the Dancing Tree of Lights – every inch of the traditional Christmas tree is wrapped with holiday lights that "dance" in sync to music.
“To further our mission of supporting small, independent businesses,” say

s Trevarrow, “The Big, Bright Light Show is funded by the Rochester DDA; Rochester City Council; corporate sponsorships; and The Big, Bright Light Show Membership Program, supported by residents.” 

Every element in the light show is LED, she adds, making the event affordable and energy efficient. This initiative has also motivated downtown merchants to extend their hours, seven days a week, a goal that had previously seemed unattainable.

Since the beginning of the show, we have been overwhelmed by the letters, e-mails, and phone calls from residents, visitors, and merchants, says Trevarrow. Some say we have restored their holiday spirit; others say how proud they are to live in Rochester. Most importantly, people have taken ownership of both the event and the downtown.

“It’s come to the point now where it’s become a holiday tradition. People know now that they are going to make the trip to Rochester to see the lights, and that’s exactly what our intention was, so we are pretty excited about that,” Trevarrow says.

Enjoy the video of this spectacular event, which features 1.5 million lights this year, along with such favorite features as the “Dancing Tree of Lights” and the “Snowflake Spectacular.”