Shop local for the holidays

The annual Waterloo Christmas Walk is in full swing, offering plenty of holiday cheer while also highlighting small businesses in the community.

Explore Waterloo Board Member and Christmas Walk Chair Jenny Bullock spoke about the event and how it’s become a holiday tradition for the past 42 years.

Bullock explained that the event was originally started by the Waterloo Merchants Group and has grown quite a bit since its inception.

For many years, the walk was originally just celebrated the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but with more and more businesses joining the event as well as Small Business Saturday being recognized nationally, the event has seen significant growth in recent years.

Bullock said the COVID-19 pandemic played a big role in expanding the event as people wanted to keep their shopping local rather than travel and rush inside a big box store for their holiday shopping – particularly on Black Friday.

“Most of the young businesses were like ‘Yeah, let’s do it for the full week. Let’s not limit it to two days. Let’s let people actually take their time and shop and actually enjoy Waterloo longer,’” Bullock said. “And it helps the restaurants and everybody else if people are shopping and eating locally all week long. COVID was really the catalyst to get people to embrace the idea of shopping for the whole week so they didn’t have to deal with crowds.”

This year’s Waterloo Christmas Walk began at the top of the week on Sunday and continues through the following Sunday.

Bullock noted that while all participating businesses will be open this coming Saturday and Sunday, they are otherwise open as they choose. She said she has been posting a list of business hours for the walk every day on Explore Waterloo’s Facebook page.

She said the expansion of this holiday shopping event has received a very positive response, with businesses already seeing an uptick in customers at the start of the week and some folks happy to have more flexibility in supporting their hometown businesses.

“I did talk to someone on Sunday who was really excited that we were starting the walk on that Sunday because she’s always out of town for Thanksgiving weekend, and she can never do the walk,” Bullock said. “By expanding it, it gives more people the ability to actually do the walk if they want to do the walk.”

The core premise of this walk is for community members and visitors to stop by and shop at as many participating businesses as possible. They can get a card at any of these businesses that is stamped to mark their purchase.

Shoppers who accrue nine stamps – participants are no longer required to visit every store – can turn their card in to Waterloo Mercantile or Merle Norman to be entered to win a drawing for gift cards from participating businesses. 

The winners are announced during the Christmas tree lighting at the courthouse on Nov. 30.

Additionally, the first 300 shoppers to submit a stamped card will receive a free Explore Waterloo tote bag as well as a custom ornament while supplies last.

While supporting small businesses is core to the Waterloo Christmas Walk, there are also plenty of events specifically meant to ring in the Christmas season.

This year, kids can visit Santa at his cottage on the Monroe County Courthouse grounds this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He’ll also be turning up every Saturday and Sunday until Dec. 23.

Kids can also stop by the cottage to drop off letters to Santa, and they can expect a message back from Mrs. Claus if they remember to write a return address.

During Santa’s visits this weekend from noon to 4 p.m., free carriage rides will be offered as well.

Saturday evening will feature the annual GLOW Lighted Holiday Parade down Main Street starting at 5:30 p.m.

A free concert with the Waterloo Municipal Band will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Sunday will also feature carolers – one group will also be performing on Saturday – as well as the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce lamppost decoration contest in the afternoon.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman will also be strolling downtown on Saturday and Sunday.

Bullock described the overall feel for the Waterloo Christmas Walk as “Hallmark-like” with a distinctly small-town atmosphere.

“It’s kind of the kickoff for the Christmas season, and there’s a lot of groups involved in it,” Bullock said. “There’s lots of little pieces that work together to make it what it is.”

One notable addition for this year’s walk will be members of the Monroe County Farmers Market.

Betsy Jones, the organization’s president, said their inclusion should prove quite helpful for those vendors who continue to sell items that are perfect for holiday gifting.

“Our market traditionally runs from May through October, but many of the vendors sell gift items throughout the season, throughout the winter,” Jones said. “So this gave us an opportunity to be downtown, in a convenient location for all of our regular season customers.”

Jones also spoke positively about her own experience with the Waterloo Christmas Walk.

“Personally, our family has always enjoyed coming up for the Santa visit and the lighted parade,” Jones said. “It’s a day that we look forward to each year.”

Bullock spoke hopefully about the walk’s impact on local businesses. She especially anticipates more outside shoppers visiting given the event’s recent highlight on KSDK’s “Show Me St. Louis” TV program.

She also noted the effect such an event emphasizing support for local businesses has had on her own businesses downtown.

“Small Business Saturday has, for the last few years, been my number one day for sales, and I’ve heard the same thing from other retailers as well that it is such a huge day,” Bullock said. “And Black Friday has become a close second, which is really exciting because that says that not everyone is rushing to get to the big box store at 12:01 a.m. or these crazy times with mobs of people. They’re looking for that small feeling or maybe shopping a little more intentionally.”

More information on the Waterloo Christmas Walk can be found on Explore Waterloo’s Facebook page. For a full list of Explore Waterloo members participating in the event, visit exploretheloo.com.

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Andrew Unverferth

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