If the official holiday season in Worcester starts Dec. 1, with the Festival of Lights and the tree-lighting on the Common, then it’s probably fair to say the holiday shopping season starts on Dec. 2, with the Canal District Holiday Stroll.
Now, you may be saying, “What about Black Friday? I’ve been practicing my sick parkour moves in order to score a cheap large-screen TV at the Big Box Store Which Won’t Be Named.” And sure, that’s fine and all, but if you’re looking for more unique gifts, and definitely more Worcester-centric ones, then the Canal District should definitely be your destination.
“The downtown event isn’t really about shopping,” says Amy Chase, owner of the Crompton Collective and and Haberdash, as well as the president of Canal District Alliance Inc. “The holiday stroll is about shopping and eating at the restaurants and spending your money locally.”
Chase started the stroll five years ago, attaching it to the lighting of the Christmas tree in Kelley Square, an event which has been happening for years. Chase says roughly 1,000 people attended the stroll in the first year. She says that, even though it rained for last year’s event, a large number of people still attended.
The combination of the stroll and the tree-lighting definitely make for a festive evening, with the day including events such as a meet and greet with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, and photo-ops with Rudolph, Frosty, The Grinch, Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Santa’s Elves … performed by the Wrestling Open team from Beyond Wrestling.
“It’s a way for us to give back to the neighborhoods,” says Chase. “It’s a community event … During the tree-lighting, we do free wagon tours around the neighborhood, free photos of Santa.”
Make no mistake, there is tons of family fun to be had.
But for retailors, particularly, the holidays are serious business.
Worcester, in recent years, has developed a reputation for not having much in the way of retail, especially if you’re not looking for the generic Big Box Stores.
“The whole reason I opened Crompton was I felt I needed to leave town to go shopping,” says Chase, who points that the retail market in the Canal District is growing quickly, with businesses as diverse as Bedlam Books Café, Seed to Stem, the Ilah Cibis Jewelry store and even the Woo Sox and Railers team stores, in addition to numerous bars, restaurants and eateries.
How important is the stroll to Canal District retailors? Chase says that “those business do three times more than they do on an average shopping day.” She also notes that “this year has been particularly hard … business is slower than it used to be … we hope this gives (retailors) the bump in sales they need this year.”
Suizee Bailey, the director of merchandise for the Worcester Red Sox, says that she hopes the stroll “gets folks to come down … it’s cool to support small businesses in the Canal District.
The WooSox Team Store at Polar Park is packed with WooSox merchandise, including shirts, caps and toys, although Bailey says that they are currently out of the popular “hot dog hat” which is evidently the store’s best seller. Bailey admits that a good portion of their sales are made on game days, or even on days when events other than baseball games are happening, but much of their sales, both in the store and online, are gifts. “Anything with ‘Worcester’ on it,” she says, saying she sees orders for everything from the classic T-shirt to the “WooSox Onesies” for newborn babies.
This logic, incidentally, isn’t contained to just to stores currently located in the Canal District. Stores such as Worcester Wares and That’s Entertainment are also great places to patronize for Worcester-centric gifts, but the concentration of stores in the Canal District and the added festivities from the stroll and tree-lighting make a fantastic opportunity.
“The people you’re giving that stuff to,” says Bailey, “they’re guaranteed not to have it already.” At least, less-likely than if you buy from one of the generic stores that are the same all across the country. Bailey says that, while the WooSox store will only be open for the first few hours of the stroll, she hopes it will encourage small business growth across the whole Canal District.
“We’re all in this together,” she says.
The Canal District Holiday Stroll
When: Events happening all day at various Canal District businesses Dec. 2; Tree-lighting event from 3-5 p.m. Dec. 2
Where: Events all over the Canal District, Tree-lighting at Kelley Square outside Jersey Mike’s, 187 Madison St., Worcester
How much: Free, visit the event’s facebook.com/events/242145261686740 for updated information.