Dowagiac businesses look forward to Christmas open house weekend

DOWAGIAC — Small businesses throughout greater Dowagiac are gearing up for the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce’s annual Christmas open house weekend, even if the event itself will look much different from previous years.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the chamber scaled back this year’s event, which will take place Friday and Saturday for most downtown businesses. In a typical year, the event included the Dowagiac Union High School band performing, business sales and specials, horse drawn carriage rides downtown and even appearances from Santa and Mrs. Claus. This year, the open house consists of each business hosting specials and sales.

“While this weekend may look a little different than Dowagiac’s typical open house weekend without Jolly ‘Ole St. Nick and family events on Saturday, it remains to be our community’s official kick-off to the holiday season,” said Vickie Phillipson, program director for the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority.  “Due to the pandemic and as a means to keep our community safe, the difficult decision was made weeks earlier to not host family events this year. As with each decision we’ve made, the safety and wellbeing of our members, their employees and the community was the determining factor.”

Local businesses are looking forward to the weekend, which remains an important kickoff to the holiday season. Each location will take special precautions to keep their patrons safe, whether it be providing hand sanitizer, complimentary masks or private shopping opportunities, according to Phillipson.

“We are thrilled, to say the least,” said ceramic artist Michelle Stambough, of Mud-Luscious. “We’re glad that people are still wanting to come in and shop small business. I feel like there are a lot of really faithful people that have said ‘I’m gonna support my small businesses.’ We’ve heard that over and over again so that’s been really encouraging this year.”

Marshall Shoppe owner Cathy Franz is not sure what to expect after what has been a year like no other for many small shops.

“You don’t know from one day to the next what business is going to be like,” Franz said. “With the COVID numbers as high as they are in our area right now, some people who would come may be concerned about coming. People who are compromised may not want to come out.”

Franz closed The Marshall Shoppe for 10 days in October due to COVID concerns, and knows how important this open house will be for many businesses both in and around Dowagiac.

“I’m optimistic that we will see a good turnout this weekend. We had our breast cancer awareness sale in October and had a fabulous turnout and fabulous sales. I wouldn’t have expected them to be as good as they were. It was better than last year. I’m hoping that happens with the open house. Maybe more people are thinking about staying local and staying away from bigger stores?”

To allow more room for social distancing, Imperial Furniture is offering its customers an extended Christmas open house. Others will be offering special incentives throughout the next several weeks.  Phillipson said 17 locations are also participating in the Chamber’s Elf on a Shelf Scavenger Hunt and the Same Day Rewards Program to boost sales and encourage cross traffic.

“For business owners, this Christmas season is likely more important than any other they have experienced,” Phillipson said.  “Due to the pandemic and the early-on Stay at Home mandate, small business owners have been working diligently to remain open.  As a community, we need to continue to support our businesses, both retail and our restaurants.”

While Santa will be missing in action this weekend, Phillipson said that Santa will be present during the chamber’s Candlelight Christmas Parade on Friday, Dec. 4.

“Just as open house weekend has been packaged a little differently this year, so will the parade, which will be staged in reverse fashion within the Cherry Grove parking lot of Southwestern Michigan College,” Phillipson said. “This year our floats will be stationary, as spectators view the lighted holiday units from within the safety of their vehicles.”

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