Traditional downtown retailers are bracing for the holiday sales season and hoping to attract more shoppers this year.
The Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce has a number of events planned -- including the annual Santa Parade on Friday -- in an effort to draw people from a wider area.
Chamber Executive Director John Lengerman said the group's efforts include free horse-drawn trolley rides through Belleville's historic shopping and entertainment district, a store window lighting contest and the annual Gingerbread Walk display, where gingerbread creations will be displayed throughout downtown store windows through Jan. 2. Several downtown businesses will also participate in an open house Dec. 1-2.
"We're just enhancing the shopping experience downtown, probably more than in the past," Lengerman said.
Downtown Belleville store owner Kathy Going said these events are a reason why downtown has become the place to shop each Christmas.
"I just think we have a nice holiday environment down here to enjoy with the gingerbread in the windows," Going said. "It's just unique."
Going has operated Bracelets & More at 101 E. Main St. with her sister for the past 11 years. She believes the reconfigured Sreetscape from about four years ago and the recently added restaurants that dot East Main have given the area new life.
"It just seems that there is more foot traffic because we have more restaurants," Going said. "It's becoming more of a destination."
In Edwardsville, store owner Andrea Smith is planning a different take on "the holidays" at Beyond Timbuktu -- for instance, Monkey Day.
Some years the eclectic shop on Edwardsville's Main Street has offered daily holiday-shopping deals based on Christmas carols, and last year it was movie titles to celebrate the reopening of the nearby Wildey Theater.
This year it'll be weird holidays, a different one every day. There really is a Monkey Day, though Beyond Timbuktu might be the only local store to celebrate it.
"A lot of places will tell you that (the holiday season) is where you pull through ... sometimes 50 percent of their annual business," Smith said. "I'd say ours is about three times our usual business. ... That's an extra boost through the lean months."
The city's Parks and Recreation Department is coordinating a Downtown in December campaign to give a holiday feel to shopping and steer more people to Main Street. The city has a vested interest, now that it operates the Wildey Theater, located on Main Street.
"We're very lucky to have the Wildey, but our main focus is to get people downtown, shopping and eating and spreading the holiday cheer," said Hayley McGuire, assistant recreation coordinator and one of the organizers of Downtown in December.
In Collinsville, the annual holiday house tour will be held Dec. 1, which follows a tree lighting ceremony on Nov. 30, where Toys for Tots will be collecting. Santa and his reindeer will appear on Saturday, and the Collinsville Library will host an Art & Author Holiday Market with local authors and artisans offering their goods for sale.
Downtown Coordinator Leah Joyce said a lot of Main Street businesses will run individual promotions throughout the holidays and will stay late on key days. "Like the big retailers, it's a major portion of their revenue," she said.
Naomi Brown said she usually comes across something unique to buy when she shops in downtown Belleville. The 20-year-old consumer said she likes to shop the stores along East Main Street to find gifts that she can't always find at the mall.
"I usually like to come here to find interesting things," the Fairview Heights resident said. "I like to walk in and look at things. "It's not rushed like at the mall with the mall traffic."
Belleville residents Bill and Terry Casperson said have seen the downtown shopping district transform into a more alluring destination for shoppers.
"As we were driving down Main Street, we were noticing just how good the downtown looks," Bill Casperson said. "It's really inviting. There's good restaurants to choose from. It's really good."