By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The Twin Cities will be alive with action this weekend when the Downtown Winter Walk kicks off for the 12th year, giving small businesses a chance to hit the holiday jackpot and shoppers the opportunity to find the niche items that aren’t available at big box retail stores.
Dozens of business and organizations will be participating in both cities, with many proprietors citing the economic benefits of the holiday-themed event that will be held on Saturday.
Suzanne Todaro, who owns Gleam & Glimmer Glass Studio, 36 Webster St., with her mother, said she became involved through the Downtown Merchants Association of North Tonawanda, which launched the festival-like happening more than a decade ago, while the Swiftwater Association and Merchants from Tonawanda also became involved, extending the cross-county extravaganza along both side of the Erie Canal.
Todaro said the once-a-year Winter Walk tends to be the busiest day of the season for the area, nearly equalling the totals of the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas.
“It’s family oriented and I think that brings a bigger draw to downtown,” she said. “We see more people that weekend than another other weekend in the fall and winter season. A lot of folks who come here get a real charge out of it.”
But it’s not all about shopping that brings more than 1,000 residents downtown each year, with hayrides, Santa Claus appearances, a make-your-own gingerbread house option, a petting zoo, cookie decorating and more.
Todaro said that a growing boutique scenario on Webster Street is what attracted her to start a stained glass business in North Tonawanda three years ago.
“It’s kind of an artsy type community and we’re trying to promote that,” she said. “I’d estimate we get between 1,200 and 1,500 people. I can’t even get out of my front door it’s so busy down here.”
Kay Learned, chairwoman of the Winter Walk and owner of Hodgepodge and the Palette Cafe, said more than 40 businesses and nonprofit organizations taking part in the day-long event have traditionally received a great response, with many holding individual open houses and other specials that appeal to potential customers.
Learned added that the recent popularity of Small Business Saturday, which took place last weekend, puts a feather in the cap for brick and mortar business.
“It gives them a chance to put forward their best products,” she said. “It’s been a real boost to their December sales and kicks off the month with a bang. This year’s Small Business Saturday was bigger and better so hopefully Winter Walk will be too.”
Last year was the best attended Winter Walk yet, Learned said, who has been in business on Webster Street for 17 years. And while she believes part of that reason is due to warm temperatures in December 2011, she said she also attributes it to a burgeoning business scene in the Twin Cities.
And while the Winter Walk has traditionally been a one-day event, it may be expanded to the entire weekend in future years.
“It’s something we talk about every year,” Learned said. “We almost did this year but decided against it, but it’s possible.”IF YOU GO • WHAT: 12th annual Twin Cities Winter Walk • WHEN: Saturday • WHERE: More than 30 participating downtown businesses and non-profits will open their doors to customers and residents on downtown streets in both Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.