Hundreds enjoy a step back in time at Friday's Downtown Open House

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Downtown Cape Girardeau had a late 19th-century feel for three hours Friday evening. Despite a wind chill hovering around 18 to 20 degrees, hundreds of visitors came to the open house. From 6 to 9 p.m., many stores stayed open beyond their normal closing time to welcome visitors with a warm smile and a hot cup of cider or tasty cookie.

Horse-drawn carriages carried passengers on a two-block journey, carolers sang such tunes as "Joy to the World" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and Santa listened to children tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

Meanwhile, the town crier -- dressed in colonial attire -- rang his bell and announced the names of nearby stores. Sixteen of those merchants participated in a chance for one person to win a $2,000 shopping spree.

To win the prize, shoppers were required to have an entry form stamped by at least 10 of the participating stores or restaurants. The shopping spree will only be redeemable at those participating merchants.

Marla Mills, executive director of Old Town Cape, which coordinated the event, said the open house was a great way for the stores to showcase their merchandise to the community.

Lauren Heidbrink, Southeast Missouri State student, shops with friends at the Renaissance during the Christmas Downtown Open House in Cape Girardeau Friday.

"The stores here have that festive attitude," Mills said. "Having this increased foot traffic is great for the businesses, especially in times like now.

"All of them in the downtown area are independent, small businesses, and it's an important time for our community to show them their support."

Jason Longwith, owner of Brown's Shoe Fit Co., 115 N. Main St., reported steadier business than during his normal operating hours. He said the support from the community is vital, especially during the current economic situation.

"If people don't support us, it's hard for us to support them," said Longwith from behind the store's cash register. "It works both ways."

Shirley Bentley of Cape Girardeau and Cindy Ainsworth of Whitewater were among those who have returned to the open house ever since the event started in 2002. The ladies were looking forward to browsing throughout the store, watching the people pass by on the streets and taking a ride on the carriage.

"This gets me in the Christmas mood," Bentley said as she stood near the corner of Main Street and Broadway. "I enjoy the atmosphere that's here, from the old English-style decorations and feel to the kids enjoying the evening with their parents."

The carriage ride was the first stop for the Berry family of Friedheim. The open house was one of several events they planned to enjoy in the area this weekend.

"For us, this is another way to get us in the Christmas spirit," said Lindsay Berry just moments after exiting the carriage ride with husband Dean, son Wyatt and daughter Zoe.

Inside the former Woman's Store at 113 N. Main St. where most of the children's activities were held, Eli and Jasmine Jones were sitting on Santa's lap, telling him what they want for Christmas. While Jasmine said she enjoyed watching the horses the most, Eli was excited to venture out among the crowd in the cold weather.

This was the fourth year the Jones family of Jackson had attended the open house.

"This is one of the first things we do each year," said Fred Jones, who was standing beside his wife, Shirlee. "It's become a tradition for our family."

Lou and Cindy Despres of Cape Girardeau said the evening made them feel as if they were children again.

"Hearing the kids sing carols and see Santa while their parents ride with them on the carriage is what Christmas is all about," Cindy Despres said. "It's about togetherness."


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