Merchants' associations pull out all stops to get shoppers in door
By Linda Murphy
The trees along Hope Street were illuminated just for this evening,
luminaria on the sidewalk designated stores serving homemade goodies and
glasses of wine, and most of all, customers — hundreds of them — made
their way through the shops in Bristol, R.I., for its 11th annual
Bristol merchants learned more than a decade ago that holiday-themed
shopping events, like the Holiday Preview on Nov. 16, get customers out
looking and buying. “It’s fun and it does get you in the spirit,” said
Westport resident Ellie Wickes, who was out shopping with her friend,
Jeanne Morris, of Dartmouth.
Linda Arruda, co-owner of Paper, Packaging and Panache, a store that
specializes in paper-related products and assorted gifts, was one of the
first merchants to start the evening of extended shopping hours and
merchant hospitality. On this night, Arruda said she was paying homage
to her Portuguese heritage by serving up squares of homemade sweetbread
pudding and tawny port.
“It’s one of the biggest days of the year,” she said of the event that
gives customers a chance to “preview” Christmas shopping with an
extended four hours of business.
Arruda and Diane Sullivan, who owned a store called Muzzie’s Attic,
started with the idea of getting customers downtown to do a holiday
preview of what might end up on their list in 2000. And it worked, she
recalled. The following year, it was moved to a Friday night before
Thanksgiving and they got more than 800 people. It was officially dubbed
the Holiday Preview.
Last year, the Bristol Merchants Association event became even more
festive when the Town Council agreed to turn the white Christmas lights
on the downtown trees on for one night only before the town’s Grand
Illumination/Christmas tree lighting on Dec. 2. The paper luminaria
outside participating stores and shops also started last year.
“It’s a wonderful girl’s night out. People make it a night and go out
to dinner after,” said Arruda, adding she expects more than 1,000 people
again this year. “This is the fourth quarter make it or break it time
for small businesses.”
Customers on this night were also taking in the changes in the downtown
that has experienced a renaissance over the past year with a recently
paved Hope Street, new shops, and a shuffling of existing businesses
from side streets to prime spots along the historic road.
across the street from Paper Packaging and Panache, Sarah Redmond,
owner of the relocated Hair, Heart and Soul, was taking in the
opportunity on this night to show off the hair salon that has evolved
over the past year or so into a complex of beauty and shopping with
three floors of salon, massage and spa services. The sangria was flowing
and a table brimmed over with treats in the business’ latest addition: a
boutique with Alex and Ani jewelry, trendy hats, scarves and other
“It’s a great way for people to experience what we have here in
Bristol,” said Redmond, of the night of festivity and hospitality.
Revival, another store that relocated to Hope Street, was showing off
its new location for the first time during the holiday preview. Owners
Victoria and Domenic Fonseca greeted customers seeing the
European-inspired, predominately black-and-white themed gift shop with
slices of black-and-white cake. “It’s always busy and it’s a real girls’
night out,” said Victoria Fonseca, who opened the shop in its original
location on Thames Street several years ago. “I get customers from as
far away as Boston and western Massachusetts. The bed and breakfasts are
always booked this weekend.”
“I think it’s a great idea. I never miss it,” added Revival customer Mary Doughney, who was out shopping with her husband.
In Bristol, the holiday festivities and shopping are followed up again
on Dec. 2 with the town’s tree lighting and as an added incentive to
return downtown again, customers get raffle tickets for every $25 worth
of shopping during the season (the tickets were doubled on the Holiday
Preview night) and they have to be present for the Snowflake raffle on
Sunday Dec. 16 or 17.
On Dec. 8, the holiday event shopping gets under way in the Flint
section of Fall River with the Flint Merchants Association’s 22nd annual
decorated window contest and the Flint Neighborhood Association’s
holiday block party.
Carlos Cesar, president of the Flint Neighborhood Association, said a
stretch of Pleasant Street from Cash Street to Thomas Street will be
closed so families can partake of the activities, which include a
moonwalk for younger kids, free hot chocolate and entertainment from
bands at T.J.’s Music Academy. Students from area schools were also
invited to sing Christmas carols.
Cesar, who is also vice president of the Flint Merchants Association,
said the festive day draws additional customers to the area’s myriad
businesses, from pawn shops to clothing stores and restaurants. “We have
160 businesses between Eastern Avenue to County Street,” he said,
adding, “It’s like a mall without a ceiling. You can find anything you
The festively decorated stores also attract families to the area for a
stroll along Pleasant Street, he said. “People take the bus to New York
for this kind of experience and we have it right here,” he added.
holiday themed shopping event is also an annual activity in Dartmouth’s
Padanaram village, where the stores include gift shops, stationary,
clothing, and home décor. The Padanaram Business Association’s Holiday
Stroll, slated for Friday, Dec. 7, is another illuminated evening of
extended shopping that also features ice sculptures, free hot chocolate,
local Scouts selling kale soup, and vintage fire truck rides. “It’s a
great night to meet new people. It’s not about selling, it’s about
meeting people in the community,” said Ruthie Barry, manager of Flora
Style clothing store. “It’s one of those nights where people start
making their shopping list.”
Tiverton Four Corners shops will also be staying open late on Dec. 12
and 13 to celebrate the season with refreshments, special discounts and a
night of stress-free local shopping, all after dark. More than 20
unique and boutiques make up this sales tax-free arts district where you
will find everything from sparkling jewelry and knitting supplies to
home décor and fine art.
Email Linda Murphy at
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