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Santa and Mrs. Claus light the Christmas tree from the balcony at Alex’s Plaza Restaurant during the Grand Illumination. Daily Tidings file photo

‘Walking in a window wonderland’

For some people, hometown shopping is the natural thing to do. It’s a way to save time, save gas, and support local institutions. It’s a way to build your own community instead of somebody else’s.

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce this year is renewing and adding to its annual holiday season campaign reminding folks why shopping locally is not only a smart thing to do, it also can be a lot of fun.

With both chamber members and non-members participating, it will be a season of new events, special savings, strolling carolers, discount coupons, free stuff, contests, family activities, charity events, music, entertainment, a parade, photos with Santa and the big event—the Grand Illumination.

It all starts Friday, Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, when the 26th annual Festival of Light Celebration kicks off with Santa’s Parade at 5 p.m., beginning at the Ashland Public Library and making its way to the Ashland Plaza.

After the parade, Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Rudolph will greet the crowd from the Brickroom Restaurant balcony above the Plaza. Santa will conduct the countdown to the Grand Illumination when he will switch on more than one million lights. He’ll then head over to the Black Swan Theatre at the corner of Pioneer and East Main for photos with Santa.

Prior to the parade, at 4 p.m., there will be entertainment on the Brickroom balcony. And throughout the day, carolers will stroll through town.

“It’s all about supporting local business,” says Dana Preston, the chamber’s membership and business development director. “But it’s also about engaging families.”

Besides the big light launch Nov. 23, there are two new holiday season events designed for family fun.

In 2018, the chamber is launching “Walking in a Window Wonderland.” It’s a window decorating contest with judging in four categories: Fabulously Funny, Merry & Bright, Winter Wonderland, and Heartwarming & Cozy.

“People can vote for their favorite decorated windows by ballot or online,” says Preston. “The contest will run from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24.”

The chamber will make available ballot sheets and a map of participating businesses to help people to find the windows. It will collect and tally all the votes and use the ballots to select a prize basket winner from among the voters. In the basket will be gifts and a bundle of gift certificates good at local merchants.

Businesses who want to participate in the window decorating contest can sign up with the chamber. The cost is a $20 gift certificate to be used for the 2019 gift basket.

Another new event is “Shop in your PJs Night!” from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14.

Internet shoppers often cite being able to shop online in the comfort of their PJs as one reason to do so. The Ashland Chamber wants to offer a PJ alternative, but with a difference: bring the family and have some fun.

“We’re asking local businesses to stay open a little longer that night,” says Preston. “And they’ll be making it festive, with refreshments like hot chocolate, coffee, cookies and tea.”

The chamber wants to show everyone how much fun it can be to shop in Ashland in their PJs. And, unlike online, people try on and ask questions about the merchandise on the spot, Preston said. Plus, instead of touching a mouse, you get to touch what you’re thinking about buying.

Returning this year is regular feature of holiday shopping in Ashland, “Give Back Wednesdays.” Participating businesses will donate a percentage of proceeds received on three specific Wednesdays to three local nonprofits. Recipients this year will be Ashland Community Hospital Foundation (Nov. 28), Ashland Emergency Food Bank (Dec. 5), and Ashland Schools Foundation (Dec. 12).

The carolers who stroll through town during the season are hired by the Ashland Chamber to add to the festive atmosphere. In the past, singers have come from groups such as the Siskiyou Singers and the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers. The chamber plans to expand caroling to some evening hours when merchants stay open later.

Besides advertising in local media, the chamber also will direct mail a Holiday Gift Guide in Thanksgiving week to 28,000 residents of Ashland, Talent and East Medford. A number of extra copies also will be made available to visitors.

“The guide will feature specials from businesses, information about events, some great gift ideas, and opportunities to dine, play, and make the most out of the holidays,” Preston says.

And for those who can’t figure out what to get somebody for Christmas, the chamber offers gift certificates, redeemable at participating merchants year around. They can be purchased for any dollar amount online at ashlandchamber.com/giftcerts or at the chamber office, 110 East Main St., open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. See the chamber website for special holiday hours and for more details about the Festival of Light.

There will be a lot happening in Ashland this holiday season. The kickoff event the day after Thanksgiving — the parade and the Grand Illumination — will draw big crowds. So get there early for best viewing.

Email Ashland resident Jim Flint, a former newspaper editor and publisher, at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

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