CHAMPAIGN – The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on in-person shopping, especially at small, local businesses. Those are just the type of businesses hoping to grab shoppers’ attention during the holiday shopping season, with the Hometown Holiday Shop & Stroll, a promotional event that starts on Tuesday, December 1st, and continues through the 20th.
This is the second year for the Shop & Stroll, sponsored by the Champaign Center Partnership, a promotion and marketing organization for businesses in Champaign’s downtown, Campustown and Midtown areas.
Last year, the Shop and Stroll was held on Thanksgiving weekend 2019 as a one-afternoon event on Small Business Saturday.
This year, the Champaign Center Partnership has expanded the event to 20 days in December, to help businesses which are grappling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Partnership executive director Xander Hazel says the downtown, Midtown and Campustown areas were like a ghost town during the initial coronavirus lockdown last spring. He says things are better now, despite the current Tier 3 restrictions that have closed indoor dining and bar service, and limited the number of customers allowed in shops at any one time. But Hazel notes that local businesses are missing much of their built-in customer base: workers at nearby office buildings.
“Because a lot of folks that work in the office buildings can work from home, you’re losing an audience of people that take advantage of Happy Hour, or take advantage of sales,” said Hazel.
To bring more shoppers to Champaign’s center, about 17 businesses in the downtown-Midtown-Campus area are offering discounts and sale items during the 20-day Hometown Holiday Shop and Stroll. Hazel says several businesses are also doing business online, through their websites and social media pages, in addition to their brick and mortar locations.
“We just want to highlight what those options are, and really just encourage people to support local businesses that have been hit really hard this year, and will continue to be hit hard even after the holiday season,” said Hazel.
Another promotion, concurrent with the Shop and Stroll, requires no purchases, just a visit to various locations, as part of the Small Business Scavenger Hunt. Participants can download an app from Eventzee (the event code is CCP), and use it to collect points as they complete challenges in front of businesses and landmarks. High scorers can enter a raffle for a gift basket featuring items from local businesses.
Other Shop and Stroll features include a strolling Santa Claus, since COVID-19 restrictions discourage the lines that would form for a sitting Santa. The strolling, mask-wearing Santa will be available to pose for sidewalk photos, December 5 from 2 to 5 p.m. in Campustown, and December 12 from 1 to 2 p.m. in Midtown.
Another promotion will offer horse and carriage rides (for a $40 fee for six people or four adults) on Saturday afternoons, December 5 and 12, in Campustown. Hazel says the rides are a way to attract people to the shopping area next to the University of Illinois campus. He says visitors to Campustown will find plenty of shopping opportunities, with students having left town early this fall, due to coronavirus restrictions.
“The horse and carriage rides will be a great opportunity for you to come back into Campustown,” said Hazel. “Because I know a lot of families probably haven’t set foot there in years and years and years. But there is a lot of great places to get food and drinks and shop as well.”
Details about the Hometown Holiday Shop and Stroll are available at the Champaign Center Partnership website.