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Getting into the holiday spirit

Posted on November 27, 2013 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Photo by Judy Westcott

Ted Stilson, executive director of Downtown Lethbridge BRZ, displays signs promoting some of the upcoming events taking place in the city’s downtown core.

Downtown merchants are pulling out all the stops to make their shopping area the place to be this holiday season.

Hay rides, old-fashioned carolers, bright lights and seasonal promotions combine with historical charm to create a hard-to-resist festive mood in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

“We encourage everyone to bring the family downtown to enjoy a more relaxing, nostalgic way of holiday shopping,” says Ted Stilson, executive director of the Downtown Lethbridge BRZ.

“You can park the car and spend the day exploring the many merchants downtown — we have such a great variety of retailers,” he says. “Then you can cap it off with a visit to one our fantastic restaurants, coffee shops or pubs.”

The downtown core has an abundance of restaurants with a variety of cuisines from around the globe, as well as several fast food restaurants and coffee shops.

Many of the cultural attractions, including the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Galt Museum, Casa, Bowman Arts Centre, Lethbridge Public Library, and Trianon Gallery, are also offering unique seasonal promotions.

The fun doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down. Stilson says the number of venues offering live music in the downtown core has also increased in the recent years, giving rise to a more vibrant and eclectic music scene.

Stilson says this is the busiest time of year in the downtown core and several seasonal events have been planned around the holiday season, with last weekend’s Bright Lights Festival kicking off the festivities.

This will be followed by the first ever Black Friday promotion on Friday, Nov. 29, when participating retailers will be offering discounted merchandise in an attempt to compete with the popular annual online shopping event.

“We would like shoppers to think local and shop local, rather than see those dollars leave our community,” says Stilson. “The advantages are that you are supporting local merchants who pay taxes here, hire employees here, and in turn support local clubs and charities.”

He says it’s a win/win situation for both the retailer and the consumer. By supporting local merchants, the shopper is supporting the local economy and gets the benefit of quality merchandise and expert product knowledge.

Following on the heels of Black Friday will be the annual Plaid Days promotion on Dec. 6 and 7. By wearing plaid while shopping downtown during the event, residents will be able to show their support for downtown businesses and shopping locally.

“Plaid Days is all about customer appreciation and thanking them for supporting local merchants,” Stilson says.

Like the Bright Lights Festival, Plaid Days will also feature hay rides, Victorian-esque carolers, and refreshments in Galt Garden, as well as discounts in many of the stores.

Plaid Days will be held in conjunction with December’s First Friday event, a monthly promotion that has “really been gaining momentum,” he says.

Held on the first Friday of each month, the promotion often features discounts on merchandise, street performers, and chances to win prizes at various shops throughout the downtown core.

“First Friday was designed as a way to get citizens to think about shopping local throughout the year, rather than just during the holidays,” he says.

Stilson says the downtown core provides a “good mix” of existing and new businesses, many of them one-of-a-kind shops.

“Many of our downtown businesses are family-owned operations, some being passed down from one generation to another, and then we have some new, boutique shops recently opening up,” he says.

“Downtown has really become the place to be. Rents are still reasonable and good store front space is getting harder and harder to find.”

Stilson’s organization — the Downtown Lethbridge Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) — was formed in 1987 to promote the downtown business community as a viable economic district, while retaining its historical flavour. A non-profit organization, the BRZ is funded by the more than 350 businesses it represents through a tax levy.

It has undertaken initiatives such as the Wednesday’s Farmer’s Market, the Historic Plaque program, the Lethbridge Main Street Project, a meter-plugging program, a mural program and movies in the park at Galt Gardens.

While some shoppers may find the parking meters of the downtown core a deterrent, Stilson says they serve to keep the traffic moving and notes Lethbridge has some of the least expensive downtown parking in Western Canada.

“People can usually park right in front of the business they want to visit, and many find they are actually walking less than they would at the larger, commercial centres,” he says.

Increasing the safety of the downtown core has also been a priority, and Stilson says the BRZ works closely with the City of Lethbridge and its police department to ensure the area is patrolled and monitored. A beat patrol has been dedicated to the downtown area and security has been assigned to Galt Gardens, he says.

“People have to be careful and aware no matter where they shop in the city and it’s no different downtown,” he says.

Information about the Downtown BRZ and the holiday promotions can be found on its website, http://www.downtownlethbridge.com/.

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