NEWBURYPORT — The economy isn't slowing down business in downtown Newburyport this holiday season, as shop and boutique owners, starting to prepare for the annual Winter Invitation Nights, are expecting this year to be busier than ever.
Stores that have participated before are used to the routine and are perfecting their annual festive foods and ciders; newer ones are looking forward to seeing what it's all about and are adding their own flair to the event.
The Invitation Nights on Fridays Dec. 4 and Dec. 11 are an opportunity for locals and people from surrounding areas to walk and stroll around downtown. People can go into all the stores, which will be offering discounted prices as well as food and drink.
Partridge in Bear Tree shop owner Kevin Riley said he thinks there is just something special about the event.
"I think Invitation Nights are fantastic. People seem to love coming. The atmosphere is electrifying. It really becomes magical down here," he said.
Riley has participated in Invitation Nights for years and said he has had a very busy season so far. He plans to be serving the same champagne punch that in past years has caused lines of people out the door.
Newcomer to the Market Square area, Keepsakes, a jewelry store that moved in on July 1, will be participating in the event for the first time, and owner Matt Khatib said he is excited to be joining in with the community.
"I think it's a phenomenal idea. It's one of the reasons we moved here because of all the activities throughout the year downtown like Invitation Night and the parades," Khatib said.
Khatib said that when he asked customers about the event, they seemed excited for it, and he plans to add to that excitement. Both nights, Khatib will be showcasing what he calls "The Million Dollar Diamond Event."
"There will be at least $3 million worth of inventory we will be displaying," he said, "We'll have pieces from $65 to the most expensive piece, which is abut $4,500."
The jewelry will be coming up from a Boston wholesale vendor, and Khatib said he thinks Invitation Nights are a great opportunity for Keepsakes to show designer pieces that people don't normally see.
If the weather holds, Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce President Ann Ormond said she thinks this year is going to be one of the busiest years in a long time for the Invitation Nights. This year, there will also be wish lists for women to fill out at the stores on both nights and then an opportunity for men to shop and fill out the lists on a Men's Shopping Night on Dec. 18.
Ormond said the Winter Invitation Nights are an intricate part of the Newburyport holiday traditions, and she hopes that many people are able to experience it.
"If people come who aren't from around here and it might be their first time, I hope they find that they want to come back. It's a magnificent small city by the seaside that they can come walk around, spend a large or small amount and want to come back time and time again," she said.
In terms of crowds, Katie Houllahan, owner of the gift shop Box and Bow, said, "Invitation Nights are a big draw. It's really a step above other towns because it's not your typical Christmas stroll, and it puts people in the shopping mood. The hours are around 6 to 9, but we've had people here until 11."
Box and Bow has been on Water Street for about a year and a half, and Houllahan said she thinks Invitation Nights are definitely on people's radar during this season.
"A lot of people come from surrounding areas. It's not just locals. People mark this on their calendars as a part of their Christmas routines," she said.