Christmas in the City is here

Published 7:00 am Thursday, November 25, 2010

Austin kicks off the holiday season today in grand style.

After the Black Friday crowds have dissipated, the 22nd annual Christmas in the City is set to launch the holiday shopping seasonaround Austin. The night starts with a parade and the lighting of Christmas lights downtown.

“It’s a celebration of the season,” Chamber Director Sandy Forstner said.

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Like Christmas itself, Forstner said the event is similar to past years with many traditions returning.

There will be sleigh rides, train rides, music in the town center, and a bell ensemble. There will also be a number of performances like St. Lucia Fest and the nutcracker.

“Tradition is really kind of a key word,” Forstner said. “It’s about community, and celebrating family … and the traditions of the holiday season that are maybe a little old fashioned in some way, but are very personal. We think that’s what separates our shopping areas from others, is that personal touch.”

Changing with the city

However, Christmas in the City has changed along with Austin’s retail climate.

While downtown used to be Austin’s primary retail hub, northwest Austin is now the city’s largest retail sector with Oak Park Mall, Target, Wal-mart and Shopko. Southwest Austin also holds its own with Main Street and many businesses along Oakland Avenue.

“It’s about more than the downtown businesses,” Forstner said.

Christmas in the city is not limited to the day after Thanksgiving, as Forstner described it as a series of events to promote area businesses throughout the holiday season.

Each year, Christmas in the City attracts more than a 1,000 people and includes more than a dozen downtown businesses. Christmas in the Northwest, which includes about 24 businesses, also attracts more than 1,000 people. Though it’s small, Christmas in the Southwest includes 14 area business. Christmas in County is also a growing attraction.

With celebrations in each of Austin’s key retail centers, Forstner said the events attract shoppers to stores with the hope of keeping dollars local.

“The idea is to invite people into those shopping areas and kind of start the season … with a thank you, some entertainment and a family night out with the hopes that they enjoy their experience, and get inside some of the stores and come back and do their holiday shopping there,” Forstner said.

Th holiday season is an important time to promote businesses, especially retailers. Forstner said shopping locally, which the chamber urges through its Buy Mower/Grow Mower program, is a key way for shoppers to support their local community.

“It’s very important to sustain these businesses and the employees that work there,” he said.

‘A community celebration’

Attracting shoppers to the stores isn’t the only goal of the event.

“It’s also a bit of a community celebration, so we feature local talent: the St. Lucia Group, Jane Taylor (Academy of Dance), ecumenical bells — all the entertainers we’ve come to know and love here in Austin,” Forstner said.

While Angela Himebaugh said she’s not sure businesses really benefit on the sales end of things, she said the festival raises awareness about businesses.

“Christmas in the Northwest and Southwest has just really grown in the past couple of years,” Angela Himebaugh said.

Himebaugh first became involved with Christmas In the City as a performer when she was Miss Minnesota.

Now, Himebaugh helps coordinate the event as a marketing and sales coordinator at the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Himebaugh said the annual event attracts a lot of visitors who are in town with family for the weekend.

“It’s nice to get out in the community that you’re visiting,” Himebaugh said.

Forstner promised Christmas in the City will continue to focus on families and children into the future.

“Each year it seems like the event grows in terms of the number stores involved, in terms of the number of things they are offering, the members of the public who come; and the crowds kind of reflect that,” Forstner said.