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Drizzle doesn’t put a damper on Winterfest in downtown Cleveland

November 25, 2018

Drizzle doesn’t put a damper on Winterfest in downtown Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio – High-school friends Nick Sword and Allison Tinnirello worked early mornings and late nights – and recruited family members to help – to open their new boutique, Haymarket Cleveland, on Saturday.

Nestled in the 5th Street Arcades in downtown Cleveland, the housewares and gifts shop debuted just in time for Small Business Saturday and Winterfest, the center city’s annual holiday celebration. Before thousands of people converged on Public Square for a tree-lighting celebration and fireworks, shoppers wandered through local stores and pop-up markets. Families with small children fed reindeer in the Cleveland Public Library’s reading garden and lined up to chat with Bruce the Spruce, the much-loved and somewhat exopthalmic talking tree at Tower City.

Pedestrian activity was modest in the morning, perhaps due to gray skies and misty rain. And a few downtown retailers complained that street closures and construction along Euclid Avenue dampened foot traffic. By early afternoon, though, Tinnirello and Sword were seeing a steady flow of shoppers interested in gifts, blankets and barware at Haymarket – and, of course, bottles of Bertman Ball Park Mustard at their other 5th Street Arcades shop, a two-year-old gift-box purveyor called Cleveland in a Box.

“I’m a little overjoyed with how it’s done,” Tinnirello, a 24-year-old Olmsted Falls resident, said of the new shop.

Winterfest can be a banner sales day for downtown retailers and the small, nomadic merchants who join them to ply handmade jewelry, stationery, Cleveland-centric T-shirts and crafts. Merchants who participated in markets curated by Cleveland Bazaar, which brought nearly 70 vendors downtown Saturday, said the crowd was different – and more diverse – than they see at other shows. There are more families. Downtown residents. And people who haven’t ventured to the central business district in years, or even decades.

Sporting a silvery winter jacket and a sequined backpack, 7-year-old Amani Neal glowed like a Christmas light as she waited for the tree lighting in Public Square. Her grandmother, Erika Neal, said Saturday was the family’s first trip to Winterfest in five years or so. The Neals, from Shaker Heights, visited the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, one of a handful of downtown sites where Santa Claus held visiting hours.

Surrounded by images commemorating the Civil War, Amani asked the bearded man in red for an L.O.L. Surprise! Doll, a toy, stickers and series of accessories tucked into a ball.

Children logged similar wish lists under the soaring ceiling of the ornate Arcade on Saturday afternoon. Across the street, at the library’s main branch, they marveled at ice sculptures outdoors and crowded inside to watch vintage model trains and produce art projects with the aid of a chipper elf.

On the historic library building’s fourth floor, in the international language department, tykes in galoshes and snow boots joined in a Polish holiday celebration led by Piast, a teenage song-and-dance troupe. As choreographer and artistic director Agnieszka Kotlarsic urged the children to rise to their feet, one little girl adamantly held to her seat and protested the audience participation, whipping her ponytailed head from side to side.

The teenagers, girls in red skirts and green aprons, boys sporting black boots, pants and hats, formed circles and dispersed, occasionally kicking their heels into the air.

Carols, traditional and modern, filled the air inside and out. On the ice rink at Public Square, skaters in puffy coats and intentionally ugly Christmas sweaters spun and slid, in defiance of afternoon temperatures in the high 40s.

After the lighting ceremony and pyrotechnics, crowds flooded back into downtown’s shopping corridors, where homegrown retailers were hoping for a bit of holiday cheer. Clara Manfredi, 38, of Chardon, said it’s been a rough year for retail in general and a slow stretch for her business, making elaborate monsters she offers for sale through a “cryptozoology adoption agency.” The creatures, which range in price from $10 to upwards of $200, drew plenty of glances, and stares, from passersby inside the 5th Street Arcades.

Events like Winterfest unite small vendors and expose them to new audiences, bringing additional brightness to downtown properties that are reviving, said Shannon Okey, the founder of Cleveland Bazaar.

“There was a time when these arcades were half-empty,” she said of the buildings, where spaces that go empty now quickly re-fill. “These buildings are so under-appreciated. ... I really like seeing when they’re put to use.”

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