It is mostly a coincidence that the year of the COVID-19 pandemic is also the year the Collingwood Downtown BIA planned a big upgrade for their downtown Christmas decorations.
The downtown business association had already approved a budget with a big spend on refurbishing and purchasing new Christmas decorations for this season.
“I think we’ve been very lucky that we built-in the budget,” said Susan Nicholson, general manager of the Collingwood Downtown BIA. “We know the community needs that lift and we’re so pleased with the comments.”
The BIA spent more than $65,000 on the various elements of the downtown Christmas displays, from paying contractors to light the Christmas tree, to refurbishing the pole lights, buying new lights, wrapping as many trees in the downtown area as they had hydro for, and purchasing new “selfie stations.”
“It’s a lot of money, but it’s worth the investment,” said Nicholson.
The BIA budget is funded through taxes collected from downtown businesses and property owners, it’s not funded through general taxation.
Some of the decorations, like a large wreath outside the federal building, came from malls in Quebec that were selling off used decor items.
The tree set up beside the federal building is one of the largest in a long time, and was donated by a property owner on Spruce Street in Collingwood. The lights adorning its branches are on loan this year, and are the ones usually reserved for the Bell Media tree in Toronto.
Though the BIA wasn’t quite sure what the Christmas season would look like in Collingwood or what kind of restrictions would be in place, Nicholson said the decor plans were always going ahead.
“We were moving forward regardless,” she said. “If we had to deal with a lockdown, at least people could walk and enjoy downtown.”
The BIA did cancel the annual Santa Claus parade, but promised other holiday activities in its stead.
Yesterday, the organization announced plans for a Christmas market, which will run every Friday evening downtown from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. from Dec. 4 to 18.
Nicholson said stores downtown are encouraged to stay open until 8 p.m. and there will be live entertainment from the Collingwood Circus Company.
“There will be strolling performers walking and moving so people don’t gather,” said Nicholson. “Vendors will set up along the curbside areas.”
The BIA reached out to Collingwood Farmers’ Market vendors and Nicholson said she’s heard from about 20 who are interested, and will be confirming the vendors by this weekend.
Santa Claus will be in his sleigh at the federal building from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays. The line up will require people to space out by at least two metres, and there will be a plexiglass shield between Santa and the child who is visiting him.
Dancers from the Fleet Wood Dance Centre will be featured in store windows on Friday nights.
“The message that we have is ‘shop your neighbourhood,’” said Nicholson. “The stores are doing a great job to ensure everyone’s safety and they’re accommodating customers in different ways.”
She said part of the “beauty” of independent retailers is their ability to adapt quickly to restrictions and still serve their “strong local customer base.”
Some retailers downtown have been accommodating personal shopping by appointment, others offer shopping by phone and many offer online retail options.
Currently, the region is in the province’s orange level restrictions, put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“There’s concern because of lockdowns in other areas,” said Nicholson. “We have a lot of people who are coming up anyway, we know that. We hope we don’t get a lockdown, but when we were locked down the businesses pivoted really quickly.”
The BIA has been organizing its Christmas market and Santa visits to comply with provincial and regional health unit restrictions.
“Everything is fluid, we know that,” said Nicholson. “Right now we set it up so it follows guidelines … We’re trying our best, but you just never know what the next announcement is going to be.”