I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him. ~ Abraham Lincoln
In a challenging economy, premier shopping events such as last week’s annual “Sparkles & Sweets” in downtown Staunton may seem a little bold and a bit risky for many merchants who have had an unbelievably rough couple years. Extra advertising, decorations, staffing and buying refreshments for several hundred people can be a burden when sales are down. But to anyone attending the SDDA’s traditional holiday shopping season preview, it was clear this event has become more than just a night where retailers court customers with free refreshments and entertainment in hopes they will spend. I crisscrossed the entire downtown district shooting pictures of the SDDA’s new holiday character “ELFis” in his debut appearance, and I was struck by one significant recurring theme. People were talking to each other. Really talking to each other.
Even in my busyness and silly rock star groupie costume, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the groups of people laughing and sharing stories on the street. Merchants greeting their visitors with hugs and laughter. Mary Baldwin students engaging in a “sing off” on Beverley Street. Couples dancing to the DJ in the soon-to-open artisan cooperative. Kids and moms and entertainers carrying on at the karaoke machine. Horse-drawn carriages whirring past magicians enchanting passersby on the sidewalks. This wasn’t a shopping mall with throngs of glassy-eyed shoppers jostling by to the next store in search of something for nothing and barely seeing the person next to them. It was couples, families, friends stopping to say hello, catch up on the latest, talk about their lives. It was a block party with heart.
Do events like “Sparkles & Sweets” truly benefit the many downtown merchants who spend a great deal of time, money and energy on them? Some might say not much; others say it’s great exposure. From my perspective as a downtown resident and worker, creating a “sense of place” and a friendly meeting ground sets our downtown apart and creates an environment that invites people to come again, tell their friends what a great time they had and most of all, become a community that will stand together through tough times. Has it been a tough couple years? You betcha. But with the authenticity I saw on the street last week from merchants, performers and shoppers alike, I have no doubt whatsoever that this place is going to make it because of the many people who care about it and each other. And THAT is something to showoff and be proud of. Bravo everyone!