As the holiday shopping season begins, local merchants and chambers of commerce are planning festivities and launching new programs to draw shoppers to downtown stores.
“Collaboration is the key with the economy the way it is and people being more and more careful how they spend money,” said Karen Maravilla with the Downtown Hammond Council. “It's important for small business owners to band together and help support each other.”
In Crown Point, shop owners in the downtown square have worked together to plan festivities they hope will bring in shoppers during a season vital to their businesses.
In Whiting, the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce is beginning a new gift certificate program called Chamber Cash for its members.
For a fifth year, the Downtown Hammond Council put on its annual A Tribute to "A Christmas Story” along Hohman Avenue earlier this month and is planning a Christmas Consignment Crawl for next weekend at seven stores across the region.
“Being a chamber, you're always trying to promote and keep people in town and not shop in the big malls and department stores,” said Sarah Hildebranski, executive director of the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce, “especially during Christmas. That's when most of the shopping goes on.”
For the Chamber Cash program, the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce is selling gift certificates for use at member stores. Store owners then trade in the gift certificates they collect back to the chamber to redeem the cash.
Hildebranski said the gift certificates will become available the first week of December.
For Copper Butterfly in Crown Point, a holiday open house earlier this month snagged shoppers interested in the store's line of unique gifts, many with nostalgic appeal, and a ladies' shopping night is planned for Friday, said Keri Bunde, store owner.
Crown Point earlier this year launched a Shop Local campaign to help drive interest in its retail sector.
“We're encouraging everybody to shop local and eat local,” said Crown Point City Councilwoman Carol Drasga, R-5th, who spearheaded the campaign.
In a combined effort by the administration of Mayor David Uran and the Lake Court House Foundation, Santa Claus is scheduled for Saturday appearances from noon to 4 p.m. on the lower level of the Old Lake County Courthouse, through Dec. 22, said Martha Wheeler, the foundation's executive director.
Hobart also is focusing on the message of shopping local this holiday season.
Although Hobart has two shopping districts, including one on U.S. 30, officials try and encourage residents to also shop or visit the downtown.
Mike Adams, executive director of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce, cites the recent opening of new stores in the downtown such as Von's Victorian Bakery and Tea Room on Main Street, which features comfort food on its menu.
“We are emphasizing that you don't need to go to a box store to make every purchase,” Adams said.
The annual Christmas tree lighting on Friday at Festival Park in Hobart will kick off holiday festivities in the city's downtown.
“The event draws people to Festival Park and gives another plug for the downtown area. It's another tool to get people to the downtown and to keep the holiday tradition alive,” Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor said.
Next year, city officials may bring back a tradition that ended in the early 1980s, which was floating a lit Christmas tree on Lake George. Snedecor said he's already discussed the possibility with officials from Boyd Construction who have promised to help with the project.
Infrastructure improvements to downtown areas attract shoppers, said Dave Ryan with the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. The chamber represents businesses in Hammond and East Chicago.
“I think what's interesting both in Hammond and East Chicago, both mayors and both cities have taken efforts to improve downtowns with new sidewalks, curbs and streets,” Ryan said. “Making the environment more shopper friendly, people are going to have the tendency to visit you.”
New for this year, the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce also has joined a group of other local chambers for a Buy Local campaign announced by The Times Media Co. in October.
"The timing is perfect for the holiday season," Ryan said. "If you plant the seed to shop locally automatically you start to think that."
Times staff writers Susan Erler, Deborah Laverty and Chelsea Schneider Kirk contributed to this report.