Christmas Market comes once, but impact felt all year

Christmas Market comes once, but impact felt all

Main commentary Dec. 6, 2012

The issue: Christmas Market is an opportunity for Carlinville to reap the benefits of tourism and shopping by out-of-towners.

Our view: Everybody should welcome the influx of visitors to our community, because everybody gets something in return.

This year’s Christmas Market is a special one, not because of all the new features and old standards that attract thousands of visitors to our community.

No, this year is special because the 2012 Christmas Market almost didn’t happen.

When the 2011 Christmas Market barely made its budget, and saw a steep drop in volunteer community participation and business sponsorships, the Christmas Market Foundation Board took a hard look at the event’s future.

The 2011 event was, as usual, a big success, but without community support, the question was raised: “If the community won’t support Christmas Market, maybe its time has come and gone?”

So the board challenged the community to raise $24,000 in pledges in a month this spring, and hoped to see a substantial influx of volunteers.

Whether or not it surprised organizers, the public and business community rose to the challenge and the 23rd Christmas Market is to begin this weekend.

Christmas Market is surely worth the support of every citizen of Carlinville.

Although many of the vendors in the famous white tents of Christmas Market are from out-of-town, they are first scrutinized by organizers to see if their handmade (not mass produced) merchandise meets strict standards of quality and price.

The people attracted to these offerings won’t be consuming in a vacuum.

Indeed, they will be shopping at local businesses along the Square and throughout the city.

They will be eating meals at local restaurants, having a cold one at local pubs. Local gas stations will sell them gas.

“Every year we hire people to go out into the crowd and conduct surveys. People come from a wide region, from Champaign, Peoria and St. Louis. Highland, Fairview Heights, Jacksonville. Bloomington is a big one, and the Effingham area,” said Carlinville Christmas Market Foundation Board president Doug Downey. “All those areas, that is where the people are coming from. They are driving here, some will be eating, some will be staying, buying gas or staying in a motel. Those people are bringing tourism dollars to Carlinville.”

Small towns and small businesses are struggling to survive in the era of big city shopping malls and online marketing.

Christmas Market is helping Carlinville survive.

It allows our local, year-round businesses to tap into a market that would otherwise be heading down the road.

Carlinville, in spite of the flaws that any such city will have, should be proud of the place we call home.

It’s a place visitors fall in love with – the Square with its Gazebo, a thriving business community and historical homes and landmarks.

Living and working here perhaps makes us immune to the charm all around us.

Christmas Market, like no other event in Carlinville, is an opportunity to show some pride in our city, and show off what we have to offer.

The impact felt locally by Christmas Market will reach far beyond these three days in December.

It will help our small businesses get through another year, pay our local employees and feed local families.

As Downey said, “Most of the volunteers are civic-minded people who want to help. They see value in this event, and value in bringing people to this town. That’s what most of them will tell us, that this event brings people to our town, and that is what they want to see, people coming to Carlinville. And this is one of the events that does it.

“Before the market starts but especially afterward, we go to the retailers to gauge how their traffic was, how did they do? Most retailers will tell us the market is a big boon for them. It helps. It provides a lot of tax money, a lot of visitors, and the tourists who do come for the market. We’ve actually had a couple people move here because they visited here for the Market. They liked what they saw, and stayed.

“We’re hoping people will come visit, shop, eat, and come back and spend some of those tourism dollars. That’s what our goal is: bring people in, but bring them back.”

One of the biggest assets Carlinville has going for it is the kindness to strangers shown by the people who live here.

You cannot walk down the streets like you do in big cities, with your head down, ignoring those who pass you by.

No, in Carlinville, people look you in the eye and say, “Good morning,” or “Good afternoon,” and mean it.

Friendliness is contagious, and one of the most important thing most people will remember about us.

So if you get delayed because a bit of extra traffic this weekend, don’t get upset … remember that these visitors are not that much different than we are.

They are looking for a nice afternoon, a get-away to do some Christmas shopping in a picturesque place they can tell their friends and family about.

And maybe next year, those people will come visit Christmas Market … or some other time throughout the year.

Put on your best this weekend, Carlinville, and open your doors to people who plan on leaving behind some of their hard-earned dollars for us to use as we see fit.