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Midtown — and its businesses — may be in for more comfort and joy during this year's holiday season.
In fact, some areas may start to look more like the North Pole than California's state capital.
Santa Claus might set up shop in Sacramento's hippest neighborhood. A Festival of Trees might light up Marshall Park. A holiday ice skating rink might take over an empty lot. It might even snow.
Key word here: might.
Those ideas fill a wish list drawn up by the Midtown Business Association (MBA), which believes such festivities could attract up to 50,000 customers during what's shaping up to be another dismal holiday spending season nationwide.
With the continuing recession, businesses and the business associations set up to help them are trying to find new ways to draw shoppers and revelers.
"We need to do some extraordinary things to hang onto these great businesses in Midtown," said MBA Executive Director Rob Kerth. "Times are pretty tough, so folks are getting creative."
Retailers, restaurants and other businesses rely heavily on sales between Thanksgiving and year's end for profits. While he couldn't name any businesses on the brink of failure, Kerth said he's worried a lack of holiday shoppers could lead to Midtown businesses closing.
"It's pretty safe to say that if Midtown has a bad holiday season, we're going to have some places go dark — particularly boutiques and retailers," he said. "If we lose them, there's no guarantee that, when times turn around, they're going to come back. If we let too many folks slip away, we could end up with too many vacant storefronts for years."
From a business standpoint, the 2008 holiday shopping season was the worst in decades. Some stores subsequently closed in early 2009.
July may seem way too early to be thinking about winter holidays. But MBA and many Sacramento businesses learned the hard way last year when an October start on planning was too late. This month, the association's tiny staff held meetings to start getting business owners and others on board.
Just how much of the wish list turns into reality depends on how much money and other support materializes. MBA estimates $50,000 is needed to finance the entire plan.
At the very least, MBA will deck out J Street with lights and holiday decorations used last year. From roughly 20th to 26th streets, they'll put lights on street lampposts or on trees on those blocks without lampposts. This year, they hope to light up three trees per block rather than two.
"It won't be the continuous coverage we want some day. But we'll keep adding to it every year," said Kerth.
MBA must also find business and property owners in those blocks willing to "host" a set of lights by supplying a power outlet from Thanksgiving to early January.
"The city doesn't have electrical power on the street. So we're always trying to find a place to plug these things in," he said. "Once we start to get a lot of lights out there, you get a pretty nice streetscape."
City crews make the old lampposts' electrical wiring ready for holiday lights. Much of the wiring dates back to the dawn of electricity and can be easily broken, said Kerth.
MBA is also proposing a tree festival for Dec. 5 and 6 to help turn Midtown into a regional holiday shopping destination. The staff is searching for Midtown businesses to decorate trees that MBA places in Marshall Park. Tree sponsorships range from $250 for a 6-foot potted cedar to $1,000 for an 18-foot sequoia.
If the idea gets enough business support, Santa would arrive at the park in a horse-drawn sleigh. Due to the Camellia City's lack of snow, the sleigh would glide down J Street on wheels rather than sled runners. But Santa Claus might make it snow — just in the park, and just for two days.
"He's putting in his orders with the weatherman," Kerth said, adding MBA has discussed the use of the park for this possible special event with some nearby residents. "This is in line with the what I understand their hopes for the park would be: family events that people from within the community and from without can come to enjoy."
After Santa finishes his duties in the park, he may then set up a workshop in a vacant Midtown building. Santa would read stories to kids while "elves" build wooden toys in the workshop. The toys would be given to charities, Kerth said.
A hardware store has offered to organize the toy workshop. Four building owners with currently vacant property in Midtown's core have offered space for the event.
"We want every one of them to be rented out to businesses. Hopefully all four of them will go away and we'll be looking for space again," he said.
The biggest event — and the one that'd require the most financing — is to build a holiday ice-skating rink in Midtown this year.
The downtown rink operated every Christmas for 18 years at St. Rose of Lima Park, which sits near the Westfield Downtown Plaza entrance at Seventh Street, won't be created this year due to park and streetscape renovations.
That outdoor holiday rink is a tradition Kerth would like to see continue. His grandfather built Iceland Skating Rink, which his mother and an aunt still own. The ice rink in the downtown park is named for his dad, William John Kerth, who is believed to have invented the ice resurfacer more than a year before Frank Zamboni developed his.
William Kerth also came up with the idea for the holiday rink. He suggested building a rink one day to his neighbor, Bob Thomas, then the director of the city's parks department.
MBA is working with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership to possibly erect the same size rink in Midtown this year. One possible location would be at 16th and J streets across from Memorial Auditorium. The rink would open around Thanksgiving and run through Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.
But that all depends on whether businesses have money to invest in the strategy. MBA expects to hold another holiday planning meeting next month. The deadline for business sponsorship is Sept. 1.
"We're getting a big jump on it this year, so it gives us the ability to be creative," said Rob Kerth. "If we can raise enough money, I think we can make it, even though times are tough."
Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. She can be reached at 916-804-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.