Hundreds of people visited downtown Grand Haven stores Friday night for freebies, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts. Many stores offered door prizes, treats and special sales.
“It's so special for us,” said Sharon Behm, owner of Borr's Shoes & Accessories, 214 Washington Ave. “The downtown is so bright and lit up. It's one of those really fun community events.”
It's also potentially profitable. Behm’s store was packed with people trying on shoes Friday night.
Depending on the weather, Behm said Light Night can draw 100-150 people into her store. During warmer temps, that could reach 300.
Not everybody buys on Light Night, but window shopping can lead to future sales.
“Sometimes it's all about planting the seed, and that's OK, too,” Behm said. “It takes more effort (on the part of local business owners). We have to have our stores decorated before Thanksgiving and we have to be more organized. But it really pays off because we get the up on the big-box stores.”
Prior to Light Night's inauguration about a dozen years ago, many local businesses hosted their own holiday open houses. Many owners chose to coordinate holiday specials with the annual Jingle Bell Parade in early December, but that was too late, Behm believes.
“That was after Black Friday and a lot of people had already spent their money,” she said. “Now, we get the jump on Black Friday.”
Behm said Light Night is also a great way to remind people that downtown Grand Haven is a fun place to shop for the holidays.
“We remind people that we're down here,” she said. “We all have cookies, appetizers, snacks. ... It's a way for us merchants and restaurants and coffee shops to give back to the community, but also for the community to have awareness that we're an awesome downtown.”
Stacy Broas, owner of Creative Fringe, 117 Washington Ave., offered a range of door prizes to customers Friday night, from classes to books to jewelry.
“Light Night definitely brings in a different set of people than I would normally see on a Friday night this time of year,” she said. “It's an event that's well attended and I think the community likes coming in and wandering around.”
Broas said she enjoys the festive, relaxed atmosphere of Light Night, before the mad holiday rush.
“It's early enough that a lot of people are more window shopping than anything else,” she said. “People are usually in a fun mood. They tend to come down in groups and families, and they really seem to enjoy participating in the night with the hot chocolate that the downtown gives out. They're not frantic at this point.”
Broas said sales should be even higher for next weekend’s Small Business Saturday.
“That's an all-day event,” she said.
Still, Light Night tends to bring in new customers each year, according to Broas.
“Just from participating over the years, I do see new faces when people come down for Light Night,” she said. “It seems like it reaches the community and entices them to come downtown and see what's down here. There are a lot of people in the townships that don't always venture downtown. I do feel like these off-season events do help bring those people in.”