As I was walking on the Commons this past Friday evening, it occurred to me that December is simply a great time of the year to visit downtown. Friday was an excellent case in point.

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s Restaurant Week was in full swing and our many restaurants were bustling with customers. It was uplifting to walk by a crowded restaurant and watch the fun and merriment of patrons who sought out our unique, local eating and drinking establishments. 

Friday was also the December edition of our monthly Gallery Night. Some 1,000 people were making their way through downtown, moving from gallery to gallery—29 in all. If you have never participated in Gallery Night, you stroll from spot to spot, exploring new and dynamic art while enjoying wine and hors d’oeuvres at each location. It is all by itself a most satisfying night out.

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance engaged a professional window designer to undertake a pilot visual merchandising program in 15 storefront windows on the Commons. Look for the white snowflakes framing the windows. Simply strolling downtown looking at the windows is itself a fun experience.

That Friday, and indeed throughout December, many downtown stores and shops remain open late. They offer shopping the way it should be: intimate, local, and leisurely. I call it experiential shopping—the strolling, the windows, the discovery of the vast assortment of goods and services available downtown. This is how we imagine shopping should be—not the hectic mall or big-box mania.

You may have seen the first Downtown Ithaca Holiday Fashion Show that was held this past Friday at Center Ithaca. Seven different downtown clothing stores participated, showcasing beautiful children’s clothing, sharp fashions for men, and of course an amazing array of designs for women of all ages. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance staff built a runway in the Center Ithaca atrium and dozens of models showcased outfits before a standing-room-only crowd. We don’t always think of downtown Ithaca as a center for apparel, but this fashion show clearly demonstrated that there is a diverse selection of coats, dresses, suits, shoes, and accessories awaiting your perusal.

Our downtown strollers also had the opportunity to check out the 250 or so mural panels lining the Commons construction fence. These murals were painted for your enjoyment by professional artists and amateurs in school groups, businesses, and nonprofit organizations from across the community.

Cinemapolis’s five movie theaters were buzzing as well, with a menu of movies that are very likely to be Oscar candidates in just a few months.

Finally, Friday night featured a sold-out show at the historic State Theatre. The State was celebrating its 85th anniversary and was hosting the timeless Temptations. Every one of the 1,600 seats was sold as people converged downtown for an evening of great live music and nostalgia.

That is why I was so moved by last Friday evening: holiday shopping, a fashion show, downtown dining, a gallery stroll, the Commons murals, cheerfully decorated store windows, and a sold-out State Theatre.

The combination made for a vibrant, exciting, and fun downtown, a place you really want to experience. It was downtown as we imagine it should be—and as it has become!

The good news for all is that there is more December left and more fun and excitement to be discovered downtown. The shops, galleries and restaurants, the windows and murals—these are all still downtown awaiting for your discovery. There also more events and activities to catch.

This coming weekend will be Ice Wars, an ice carving extravaganza not to miss. This is not your ordinary ice-carving event, if there was ever such a thing. We have assembled a dozen of the world’s best professional ice carvers who are competing for over $10,000 in prize money and for points toward the World Ice Carving championship. These pieces are so intricate they will not last long – it is best to see them as they are created.

We are hosting our 4th annual Chowder Cook-Off this Saturday. You will never imagine how many different, exquisite flavors and types of chowder there are until you come and experience this event. Smaller and less crowded than the annual Chili Cook-Off in February, this event is sure to reward your taste buds.

Partake in the season’s events – you can find more information about them at www.downtownithaca.com

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