The Christmas lights have already gone up on Broadway, but the downtown business community has more surprises in store for shoppers as the holiday season gets under way.
A wide array of holiday promotions sponsored by a group of downtown New Haven business organizations will be rolled out starting the day after Thanksgiving, University Properties Director of Marketing Shana Schneider said. The Christmas lights, which University Properties put up last week, are only the beginning of the efforts to draw consumers into New Haven. The upcoming promotions will include a Holiday Cheers Rewards program, a shop-window decorating contest and late-night Thursdays in various shopping districts.
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The late-night Thursdays will kick off on Nov. 30 with the lighting of a Christmas tree on the New Haven Green. During each Thursday through Christmas, participating stores will stay open until 9 p.m. Free peanuts, popcorn and hot cider will be available at various street corners throughout the downtown area, and carolers, including Yale a cappella groups, will roam the streets, Schneider said.
Each shopping district — Broadway, Audubon and Chapel — will host events during one of the Thursdays in December. Stores in the Broadway area, including Urban Outfitters, Wish List and Laila Rowe, will participate in a Dec. 7 promotion in which the customers will be given Christmas stockings that they can then fill with coupons and small gifts handed out at each store.
The Audubon district will hold a crafts show on Dec. 14 featuring hundreds of vendors and a living window display with real people acting as mannequins. On Dec. 21, participating stores in the Chapel district will serve complementary appetizers to customers, Schneider said.
“We’re working on these promotions to help merchants close their deals for the holidays,” Schneider said. “But there are also great benefits for shoppers.”
Downtown New Haven’s retail districts have benefited from aggressive revitalization efforts spearheaded both by the city and the University in the past decade. But some shop owners have said the city’s retail offerings cannot compete with suburban malls, whose chain stores have lower prices than the independently-owned stores that populate Broadway, Chapel and Audubon. Other retailers have said a parking shortage and the perception that the Broadway District is “Yale territory” have also discouraged people from patronizing the area.
But organizers are hoping that discounts and the area’s unique atmosphere — which retailers have long said is downtown New Haven’s biggest draw for shoppers in the region — will encourage more visitors.
Every Thursday evening starting Nov. 30, in addition to the late-night promotions, the upper part of the New Haven Green will feature a luminaria display — hundreds of small paper bags containing lit candles will line every path, Town Green Special Services District executive director Scott Healy said.
“It’s really one of the most peaceful and beautiful sights,” Healy said. “It completely transforms the space in a way I would have a tough time describing.”
Other holiday promotions will extend past Thursdays, including the Holiday Cheers program. For every $50 spent at New Haven stores beginning the day after Thanksgiving, shoppers earn a voucher for a drink at any one of more than 20 participating restaurants, Healy said. For every $100 spent, they receive a voucher for a ticket to Criterion Cinemas. Vouchers can be obtained by bringing receipts to the Info New Haven visitor center at Chapel and College streets.
The fifth annual downtown New Haven window-decorating contest will also start the day after Thanksgiving, Healy said. When shoppers vote for their favorite store window at ballot boxes in any of the roughly 75 participating stores and restaurants, they will be automatically entered to win a $500 shopping spree.
University Properties, the landlord for much of the Broadway and Chapel districts, has helped coordinate the events along with Market New Haven, Town Green Special Services District, the merchants associations representing each of the districts and other groups, Schneider said.
Store owners said they appreciated efforts to bring customers into the area at a time especially crucial for businesses.
“I think University Properties does a great job,” Urban Outfitters store manager Jud Beardsley said. “I see a lot more foot traffic from outside of New Haven coming in, which unfortunately wasn’t always the case.”
But others said that while they are optimistic about the upcoming shopping season, they remain worried about how the overall health of the economy will affect holiday sales.
“We want to have a positive approach with this,” Laila Rowe store manager Ann Johnson said. “It’s hard to tell with the economy and everything, but we’re anticipating always and hoping [the shopping season] is going to be good.”
Schneider said University Properties has also added a new tenant — Elm City Artists. The studio will be on Broadway temporarily while University Properties looks for a long-term tenant, she said.