By Lauren Zaepfel
North Tonawanda's Webster Street will become home to a host of holiday festivities as local businesses and organizations come together to offer the annual Gateway Cities Winter Walk beginning Friday, Dec. 2, and running until Sunday, Dec. 4.
Winter Walk Committee Chair Heather Kalisiak, owner of Martinsville Soapworks at 88 Webster St., along with a committee of around eight volunteers, have worked together to organize the event, which will feature some of the biggest shopping specials of the year and a variety of children's activities.
All in all, Winter Walk is about giving back to the community, Kalisiak said.
"I like to be able to give back to the community as merchants because (customers) support us year round," Kalisiak said. "And, I really like being able to give back to the community, to give back to the kids and to give back to the parents. So it's not just, 'Come down here and spend some money,' it's that we appreciate our customers. Without our customers, we wouldn't be able to keep our doors open."
Holly Rankie, owner of Hip Gypsy at 78 Webster St., said Winter Walk "certainly is a financial boost, but it also is just a way to get people in so that they discover you."
Also, it "draws back to the days of service and a small shop owner that concentrates their efforts on absolutely pleasing their customers," she said.
Suzanne Todaro, owner of Gleam & Glimmer Stained Glass Studio at 34 Webster St., and Winter Walk committee treasurer, said, "I think (Winter Walk) is more of an awareness thing for the folks that are in the area. A lot of the folks that live in the North Tonawanda and Wheatfield and Tonawanda areas don't always come downtown (in the Tonawandas) and I think it gives them an opportunity to see what we can offer and to give them other shopping opportunities."
Besides offering shopping-related specials to attract visitors, Kalisiak said one of local merchants' biggest contributions to the event is decorating their storefronts.
Merchants will compete for the best storefront display and, for the first time this year, the public will vote on the winning showcase.
This year's theme is "A Very Griswold Christmas," based off the film, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
"We're hoping all the merchants are going to bring their decorations to a totally over-the- top (level) to evoke the feeling of the movie," Kalisiak said.
Signs will be placed at each participating shop location with a website address as well as a QR code that visitors can simply visit online or scan with their smart phones to cast their votes.
Polls will be open Friday and Saturday and the winner will be revealed at the Riviera Theatre Sunday evening after a showing of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" at 3 p.m. and in an ugly sweater contest.
In between checking out the displays while shopping along Webster Street, visitors can take part in a variety of activities, most of which are offered on Saturday and are free to the public, Kalisiak said.
For example, she said, children can get free photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well as Anna and Elsa (of Disney's "Frozen") from 2-4 p.m. at the YWCA of the Tonawandas at 49 Tremont St., North Tonawanda.
Also at the YWCA, children can make and decorate life-size cut out gingerbread people inside, while a petting zoo will be set up outdoors.
Just around the corner at 240 Goundry St., The Carnegie Art Center will be hosting its second Art off the Wall fundraiser, where anyone can and purchase original works of art for $20.
Free antique fire truck rides by Sweeney Hose Co No. 7 will be offered among many other activities up and down Webster Street and just over the bridge in Tonawanda, as well.
Even a free shuttle will be available to transport guests to various locations during the event.
Although these Winter Walk offerings, as well as several others, are organized by a committee small in numbers, Kalisiak said, "Everybody kind of has multiple hats. So some people, their job is to walk the street and make sure we get participation from all the merchants, and that same person might also be coordinating the canine dog (demo) or looking for new things that we can add. ... So everybody has their job to do and it makes it easier for those of us who are owner-operators of our stores."
For more information on the various offerings available throughout Winter Walk, visit www.tntwinterwalk.com.
Holly Rankie, owner of Hip Gypsy on Webster Street, displays decor she is placing in her storefront for Winter Walk, made by one of her customers, Maria Waselus of North Tonawanda.
Small Business Saturday in North Tonawanda
On Saturday, Nov. 26, businesses along Webster Street in North Tonawanda will participate in Small Business Saturday. Special promotions, offers and refreshments will be found at various locations throughout the day to promote shopping local and supporting small business in the area.