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Column: Holidays downtown -- savor the experience

Kristi Stokes is president of the Greater Downtown Council.

We're proud to continue many of the traditions in downtown Duluth that have helped our community usher in the holiday season, plus we are adding a few new twists that will bring additional excitement and energy to our central business district.

Thanks to the recent launch of a holiday retail pop-up program, we'll have more than six new retail businesses filling vacant storefronts in a manner of weeks. The Greater Downtown Council teamed up with property owners to activate a few vacant storefronts by offering 2- to 3 months of free rent. This generated an overwhelming response from local and regional businesses that were eager to take advantage of the offer; it's our hope that some will be "test driving" our market and this will be just what they need to decide to set up shop for a longer term. While the participating businesses must be operational by Nov. 30, which is Small Business Saturday, some have aspirations of an earlier launch to show off their space for the Christmas City of the North Parade.

This year's parade will take place on Friday, Nov. 22. It truly serves as the kickoff of the holiday season and Downtown is pleased to have hosted this celebration for more than 50 years. We are fortunate that our friends at KBJR/KDLH coordinate and produce this popular event which packs many of the restaurants, sidewalks and streets. Prior to the parade, the magic begins with the lighting of the community Christmas tree, thanks to Minnesota Power. This too is a strong tradition that is welcomed in by local bands, dignitaries and the community. The excitement continues on Nov. 23, with the opening of the Bentleyville Tour of Lights at Bayfront Park.

And while some may feel that the holidays are filled with hustle and bustle and there are times when it is just too rushed, remember our local businesses in the downtown waterfront. They provide added value.

A recent repeat customer said how much she appreciates the free gift wrapping at one store, whether for Christmas or a birthday. Another mentioned that she loves calling the store owner, who knows her sons, their clothing sizes and what they would like to add to their wardrobe. Yet another just appreciated the fact they were welcomed by name.

Local businesses are the heart and soul of our community. They are owned and managed by our friends and neighbors, they provide jobs and they support other local service providers. Enjoy the experience of "shopping local" not only on Small Business Saturday, but throughout our holiday season.

Kristi Stokes is the president of the Greater Downtown Council in Duluth. Contact her at 727-8549 or by email at