Winter events heat up local stores

Marie Havenga • Feb 8, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Winter can be such a hum-drum time of year, with not much humming and not much drumming. 

And, for local businesses and restaurants, cold temperatures and snowy roads can cause a roadblock to sales — unless there's something fun and exciting to draw them from the comfort of their homes.

Local events such as this weekend's Frozen in Time in downtown Grand Haven and the Spring Lake Rotary Club Snow Jam can be a huge boon for business, just as events such as Winterfest, Light Night and Wine about Winter have been earlier this season.

“It helps us immensely because it brings people on our sidewalks,” said Sharon Behm, owner of Borr's Shoes and Accessories, 214 Washington Ave.

As chairperson of the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority, Behm is keenly aware of what a difference events can make to downtown retail and restaurant traffic.

“It's our job to bring people on the sidewalks, but it's up to me as an individual merchant to bring them into the store,” she said.

Frozen in Time, where people pose motionless in store windows, could lure 1,200 to 1,500 people downtown, according to Behm.

“The sidewalks are literally packed,” she said of the annual event. “It's just fun to look at the live mannequins and watch families gather in front of the different storefronts and talk about the windows. On an average Saturday this time of year, especially if it's cold out, we don't really get much traffic downtown.”

However, in Behm's business, the cold can also boost business. She sells boots.

“People may go down and watch the cardboard sled races (during Winterfest) and their feet get cold, so guess what they're going to do,” she said.

Michelle Dixon, who owns Gem Source Fine Jewelry at 301 W. Savidge St. in Spring Lake, is co-chairperson of this weekend's Spring Lake Rotary Club Snow Jam.

“I think these events drive business because they coax people who normally wouldn't be out and about to go out in the community, go out for dinner and shop locally,” Dixon said. “They wouldn't ordinarily do it unless there was an event to spark an interest.”

She said businesses that sponsor Snow Jam get a lot of exposure during the two-day event.

“We have a great deal of businesses that just do donations and want to be a part of it, even if they're not food vendors,” Dixon explained. “People come out and see the names on the banners and it makes them aware that these businesses are here and they participate in the community and support the community. There's never a bad way to sponsor an event.”

Karen Kolenic, a store clerk for both What a Gem and Down to Earth in Grand Haven, said events help a lot.

“Oh my gosh, like crazy,” she said. “Last year it was really mild weather for Frozen in Time and it was packed with families. They look in the windows, then come in. It's a big draw.”

Kolenic said she sees more business at both stores when events are in progress.

“They bring people downtown,” she said. “It's really special we can keep people interested and keep these events going on. If you're doing a special event, a lot of people come to walk around and window shop.”

Joy Gaasch, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, said winter events help keep the Grand Haven-area economy thriving.

“Northwest Ottawa County has done an excellent job of creating fun and unique experiences all year long,” she said. “Shoulder season and winter events are important to local businesses as they are not just for the locals, but regional residents who want to escape to the Lakeshore, bringing dollars into our economy.”

The Chamber of Commerce launched a Winter Market at the old train depot in downtown Grand Haven this season. It's generating a lot of interest and attendance, Gaasch said.

“Part of a true community experience is having unique events for people to get out and enjoy seeing friends and neighbors while sharing unique experiences,” she said. “Winterfest activities certainly brought a lot of smiles to a lot of people's faces, and that translates into dollars spent.”

Gaasch praised the Spring Lake Rotary Club, Grand Haven Main Street DDA and others who organize winter events, helping to lift spirits during the cold months.

“In many ways, they are brave, creative souls to always assume that Mother Nature will cooperate,” she said, “and when she doesn't, have a plan in place to still put on an amazing event.”

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