Adjusting to pandemic, downtown to have virtual holiday lighting event and more safe shopping options

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Dec. 1, 2011, a pedestrian crosses the intersection of Seventh and Massachusetts streets at dusk as colorful lights breathe some holiday life into downtown Lawrence.

Though the community will not gather to watch firefighters rescue Santa Claus from the roof of Weaver’s Department Store or count down for the illumination of the downtown holiday lights, city leaders say visiting downtown for the holidays is more important than ever this year.

Mayor Jennifer Ananda made a proclamation as part of the City Commission meeting Tuesday encouraging the community to support small businesses throughout the holiday season, especially due to the economic challenges businesses are facing due to the coronavirus pandemic. The proclamation stated that the holiday season will likely be difficult for small businesses and encouraged residents to support local businesses first as part of their annual shopping.

“The City of Lawrence recognizes the value and importance of small businesses to the local, regional, and national economy―particularly during these challenging times,” the proclamation says.

As usual, Downtown Lawrence Inc. is participating in Small Business Saturday on Nov. 28, a national event that encourages shopping at local businesses, but due to the pandemic is encouraging residents to spread their local shopping throughout the season instead. Downtown Lawrence Inc. Executive Director Sally Zogry recognized that many have been shopping online recently due to the pandemic, but said that downtown businesses need local support and that the majority of them offer contact-free ways to shop.

“Amazon is not hurting. eBay is not hurting,” Zogry said. “But our stores are, our businesses are.”

Zogry said most downtown stores provide curbside pickup, using reserved spaces directly in front of the storefront, and/or delivery, with some businesses offering free same-day delivery. To give shoppers more room, other stores are limiting their capacity, expanding their hours, or offering early-hours, after-hours or appointment-based shopping. For those who still want to shop in person but limit the amount of time they spend browsing, Zogry suggested they browse a store’s website ahead of time to give them a better idea of what a store has and what they want to look at.

Other mainstays of the holiday seasons downtown are also adjusting to the pandemic.

The annual holiday lighting ceremony and Santa rescue will not occur, but Downtown Lawrence is partnering with the Lawrence Arts Center to provide a virtual version of the event that includes Santa, even though he will not require rescuing this year. The more than 30-year tradition typically brings thousands of people to downtown Lawrence. Instead, Zogry said the Arts Center will be producing an approximately 15-minute video that will include drone footage of the downtown holiday lights, musical performances and an appearance by Santa, who will be the one to flip the switch this year.

“We are working hard to bring the holiday spirit to the community because it’s so different this year,” Zogry said.

Zogry said the filming, performances and illumination of the downtown holiday lights will occur earlier in the week, and the program will premiere at 6 p.m. on Nov. 27 on the Lawrence Arts Center’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, as well as the Downtown Lawrence Inc. Facebook page.


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