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Downtown nutcrackers draw foot traffic

ATTRACTING PEOPLE — Owners of downtown businesses report seeing increased numbers of walkers on Fourth and Market streets since about 80 of the city’s life-sized, hand-painted nutcrackers were moved there. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — Downtown merchants are hoping the increased foot traffic they’ve seen on Fourth and Market streets since dozens of nutcrackers took up residence there will translate into more sales.

About 80 nutcrackers, overflow from Steubenville’s Nutcracker Village, are now in residence in the central business district. Organizers hoped the expansion, which eased congestion around the main display in Fort Steuben Park, would not only encourage visitors to explore the Fourth and Market street shopping district but also to spend money in them.

“There was no room left at the fort,” nutcracker lead artist Therese Nelson said. “There was no way we could fit 180 nutcrackers in, last year was tight and we just had 150 of them there. I think it’s a good change. Our goal all along was to have people walk through the downtown. Our original plan was to put smaller nutcrackers in some of the storefronts — before life-sized nutcrackers ever came about, tiny nutcrackers were the plan. Finally, five years later, we’re realizing those dreams. The Fort Steuben Visitor Center doesn’t represent the whole city — having people walk through downtown is a more accurate representation of what your city is.”

Nelson, who oversees Leonardo’s, Steubenville Popcorn Co. and Drosselmeyers, said she’s seen “a lot of people coming in after 6 p.m.,” Nelson said. “They enjoy seeing the lights at night and having somewhere warm to go, maybe have a hot chocolate.”

“We’re seeing a lot more foot traffic, people who would other wise not have stopped in,” she added.

Not everyone thinks the increased traffic is adding up to higher revenues.

“This year it’s been so slow, things haven’t really picked up at all,” said Mary Ann Freeze, owner of Prodigal Daughter. “There’ve been a lot of people out walking around, but I’m not seeing it translate into them coming into store.”

Freeze said it’s do-or-die time for her.

“I’m excited they did it, they’ve put a lot of work into it and it looks nice,” she said. “But for me, personally, it hasn’t translated into anything more. Maybe for someone else it is; I’m just hoping things pick up. I know for me, if it’s not a good holiday season, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Mayor Jerry Barilla, president of Historic Fort Steuben, said he’s seen people following the nutcracker trail, though he can’t speak to numbers.

“The feedback I’m getting is that it’s nice to see the nutcrackers expanded on Fourth, it’s nice to see people walking around and viewing them,” he said. “I’m not getting feedback on the retail side, just that they like to see nutcrackers, it’s more festive, like old times. Whether that means people are stopping to eat and shop, they haven’t said.”

Nelson said she’s seen an uptick in business at the three shops she manages, “especially the Christmas store.”

“I think people really enjoy having other things to do,” she said. “Our goal all along has been to try and keep people in town as long as possible, usually two hours is the goal. Then they can see other things the town has to offer, projects we’re working on here.”

Nelson looks at the nutcracker expansion as an entrepreneurial opportunity.

“It’s a reminder to all of us on Fourth Street to put our best foot forward and greet these people,” she added. “It’s an opportunity to welcome them.”

Patricia Marx of BookMarx said the increased foot traffic is noticeable.

“As far as getting more people coming into the store, I haven’t seen lot of that this past week but we had a bang-up Thanksgiving weekend. It probably had something to do with traffic coming into the city to see the nutcrackers.

“I think it’s all benefiting the city,” Marx adds. “I don’t see any negatives.”

Third Ward Councilman Eric Timmons, meanwhile, said he likes seeing the increased activity in the central business district.

“Last weekend a citizen wanted to discuss some issues with me. I immediately thought of having the meeting at Leonardo’s,” he said. “I then saw a friend head into Prodigal Daughter. I went in to say ‘hi’ and we both ended up making a purchase there. There’s lots of cool stuff in there. I find myself stopping at the bakery more often for a maple cream stick because I’m already downtown. There is no doubt to me that the Nutcrackers have symbolized and ushered in a new feeling and attitude downtown, that is catching on and transferring to other downtown businesses.”

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