It remains to be seen if anything besides door-buster bargains can be done to cheer up consumers this holiday season.
Would a more festive downtown turn your attention from troubling economic news to holiday wish lists?
Downtown Seattle boosters hope so. They’re urging property owners to light up their buildings for the holidays, in the belief that a colorful skyline will get shoppers spending despite the bleak economic environment.
“With news of our economy dominating headlines, a strong downtown marketing effort during the holiday retail season is more important than ever,” began a widely distributed e-mail last week from the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA).
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The DSA recommended placing colorful lights in eye-catching holiday patterns on the sides of buildings so that illuminated Christmas tree ornaments, for instance, can be seen from Elliott Bay or Interstate 5.
“We just want to make sure we’re providing people with lots of reasons to come downtown,” said DSA spokeswoman Kristin Mattison.
Downtown already has Macy’s day-after-Thanksgiving parade, carousel rides in Westlake Park and Nordstrom’s Santa. But the DSA is adding several new attractions:
• Starting Nov. 28, the DSA, along with the Metropolitan Improvement District, will put on a five-minute light and music show in Westlake Park every half-hour from dusk until the carousel closes.
• Family holiday photos will be projected onto the exterior of the Fifth and Pine Building facing Westlake Park during the shows. A new selection of photos will be shown nightly.
• More than three dozen lighted displays, some as tall as 8 feet, will be placed throughout downtown. Designs include a tricycle, drum set and toy race car.
It remains to be seen if anything besides door-buster bargains can be done to cheer up consumers. The National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will rise 2.2 percent from last year, the smallest gain since 2002 and half the average of the past decade.
Retail consultant Howard Davidowitz said that while a more festive atmosphere will attract people downtown, “only one thing is going to get them shopping, and it’s called price.”
“Consumers simply are out of bucks,” he said. “They have negative savings. Their 401(k) has become a 101(k). Unemployment is exploding. And we’re in the biggest housing crisis since the Great Depression. What retailers should do is take every cent they have and dedicate it to reducing prices.”
Even so, John Gallant, an owner of the Red Balloon gift store at Seventh Avenue and Olive Way, called the DSA’s push for more downtown lighting a “great idea.” “Anything that livens up the downtown core is good for business,” he said.
“I just don’t see the point of wallowing in your sorrows,” added Michelle Kim, owner of Stewart Street’s Rue boutique, which sells dresses ranging in price from $90 to $350.
“I’m not seeing as many people walk through the door,” she said, noting she’s discounting merchandise more frequently and hosting fashion shows to boost sales.
“We still get people who need outfits for weddings and holiday parties. And we get women who are stressed out,” she said. “Shopping is therapy for them, and that always helps.”
In downtown Bellevue, Kemper Development’s Bellevue Collection plans to spend more than $1 million on its fourth annual Snowflake Lane, a nightly holiday celebration along Bellevue Way and Northeast Eighth Street that begins Nov. 28.
Three dozen new snow-making machines and more than a dozen costumed characters have been added to this year’s show, said Jennifer Leavitt, vice president of marketing at the Bellevue Collection, which includes Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square and Bellevue Place.
“It’s one of those things that puts people in a great mood,” Leavitt said. “It’s a chance to celebrate the season and it’s free to the customer.”
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or email@example.com