Santa Claus cruised into downtown Pendleton on Saturday in a big red city fire engine. His shiny black boots hit the pavement outside the Children’s Museum of Eastern Oregon on Main Street, and eager children clamored around the jolly old elf while parents positioned for photos.
His arrival marked the beginning of the Pendleton Downtown Association’s second Holiday Stroll, an event to draw the community to downtown for treats, fun and shopping.
Local merchants said last year’s stroll worked in spite of the harsh winter weather, and this year’s seemed to be going as well or better.
Mark Royal served up sugar cookies and fresh pretzels at his Rolling Stone Bakery, 215 S. Main St. While the stroll was not underway until 3 in the afternoon, he said the shop already had an uptick in sales.
Pendleton has a core of people, Royal said, many of which are his customers, who are long-time residents and want to see the town grow. Events like the stroll help his and other specialty shops, he said, but growth in Pendleton’s population would be a bigger boost.
Some time later in the midst of the stroll, Royal said business turned out to be more than good.
Several doors down, Echo Bike & Board owner Stephanie Myers and her staff were working on a window display. She said last year’s stroll brought an increase in foot traffic and business, but that died after 5 p.m. She said having the stroll from 1-5 during the day “would be awesome,” but the store would be open until the event ended at 7.
The store has been in Pendleton almost three years, and Meyers said business has been good this year.
Molly Turner of the downtown association was hopeful this year’s stroll drew larger crowds than last year’s. Some 1,100 people RSVPed, she said, and given the day’s temperature was almost balmy compared to last year’s, when strollers had to navigate ice and snow, there was the potential for more people participating.
Businesses off of Main Street joined the event, and some shops offered discounts to strollers. A guitar raffle enticed more folks to come down. Instead of buying a ticket, strollers had to get stamps from seven of nine participating establishments, then turn in their stamp card by 7 to the downtown association, 380 S. Main St.
The Pendleton Center for the Arts drew families with free sugar cookie decorating, probably about as much a hit with the kids as Santa. Roberta Lavadour, director of the arts center, credited Turner with the success of the stroll.
“She is sort of the kingpin we needed to drive these downtown events,” Lavadour said.
Beyond a one-day increase to the bottom line, Lavadour said the culmination of these events helps brand downtown as a fun and happening place.
Some chill settled in as the sun went down and people gathered outside the Hamley Steakhouse & Saloon at the corner of Southeast Court and Main Street for the lighting of the community Christmas tree. Turner addressed the crowd, which topped more than a hundred, and said while this was the second stroll, it was the first tree lighting.
Pendleton City Council president Neil Brown took the mic and said the tree, a blue spruce, was alive, and the Pendleton Parks and Recreation Department would plant it after the holidays. He also gave a few remarks about the history of the Christmas tree, including a bit about child sacrifice and how the Swiss put real candles on their trees, which they set up Christmas Eve and take down Christmas day.
Moments later he led the crowd in counting down from five to one to power up the tree.
The lights went on, and the crowd clapped and cheered.
Contact Phil Wright at email@example.com or 541-966-0833.