Lighting up ‘Winslow wonderland’

To the east sit the posh department stores of downtown Seattle. To the west, the “big box” chains and mall outlets of Silverdale.

Somewhere in the middle sits little Winslow, its homegrown merchants straining to remind islanders to keep their dollars local during the holiday season.

And steering the publicity sleigh is the Team Winslow merchant association, this year counting on more advertising and music to offset the economic concerns of the times.

“Downtown has really unique items that you can’t find anyplace else,” said Sandy Martin, Team Winslow director. “There’s a good price range, and it’s all collected within a close proximity.

“I think that’s one of the treasures of the island – we have all that, and it’s all close together.”

If the refrain sounds familiar, it echoes a new commercial running on local cable and touting the many “eclectic” shops to be found in the “Winslow wonderland.”

The spot is part of a season-long campaign of TV and print ads and brochures, funded by merchants through a $180 “holiday promotions assessment” on Team Winslow members.

But the marketing drive actually got under way in August, with a merchant survey to find programs most likely to lure consumers downtown.

Some concerted efforts of past years, like weekly “Open Late” evenings with activities, were abandoned, thought to be too burdensome on smaller businesses and of marginal interest to shoppers. But some shops may keep later hours on their own during December, Martin said.

Merchants, though, were overwhelming in their support of musical events, and many sought more activities for kids.

Topping the new programs – and, Martin said, an attempt to unify Madison Avenue with Winslow Way – the Pavilion will host a “Holiday Kids’ Camp,” 9:30-11:30 a.m. Dec. 8. Parents can drop off the youngsters (no diapers, organizers ask) for a movie and other activities; merchants hope parents will then head downtown to shop. Cost is $10 per child, and the event will be repeated Dec. 15.

Downtown music that day will include holiday flutes (10:30-11:30 a.m., Winslow Green), Jas Lindford Brassworks and Renaissance Jazz (1-2 p.m. Winslow Mall), and Young Voices (2:15-2:45 p.m., Winslow Mall). Performances for Dec. 15 have yet to be announced.

Even stalwart events like Santa’s arrival and the community tree lighting (4:30-6 p.m. Nov. 30, outside city hall) will be supplemented with music this year, with a performance by the Unity Gospel Choir.

A Holiday Block Party (6 p.m. Dec. 14) sponsored by Blackbird Bakery promises entertainment as well, while the Bainbridge Chorale has been tapped for a community singalong at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Playhouse.

To present a unified look, Martin said, merchants will be displaying wreaths on their door or window. Decorations also went up last week on streetside posts, also funded by the promotions assessment.

And as part of a separate fund-raiser, two 500-bulb strings of lights – the first of five planned – have been ordered, to go up across Winslow Way within a week.

“This is going to be cool,” Martin said.

While the holidays’ economic impact on downtown varies by business, merchants say sales definitely pick up for those who are well established.

“Ask my wife if she ever sees me during the month of December,” said Morley Horder of Eagle Harbor Book Co., acknowledged as one of downtown’s “anchor” businesses.

Horder, who has owned the shop for about five years, said downtown “could always do better” in marketing itself, but he does see more organization than in past years.

“We do great down here,” he said. “I love coming down here myself. There’s pretty much everything you need, it’s walkable and it’s attractive.”

Tom Clune, owner of BI Cycle, said his business “usually does pretty well” in December, and expressed optimism despite the region’s economic downturn.

The presence of parking spaces right outside his door helps, he said.

Clune said downtown merchants do have to battle the ongoing “misconception” that retail items cost more on the island.

“If people know the product and compare prices, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised,” he said.

But he also called the downtown marketing effort commendable.

“I think it’s been more effective than it has been,” Clune said, “just because I’ve heard people talking about it.”

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