Illuminating the holidays

Even with the crazed shopping, the smoky traffic, the pit-in-your-stomach stress, it's hard not to enjoy the holiday season in Carson Valley.

Driving through downtown, one wouldn't know our country, more specifically our state, is coming out of the worst economic recession in years; for business owners and town officials have outdone themselves with decorations.

From Esmeralda Avenue to Battle Born Wine's electric dazzle, the residents of this Valley have poured their holiday hopes into endless strings of lights, wreath after wreath of festive pine, and all the shimmering, soft-lit displays in the frosty shop windows.

"I am seeing people coming in, and the sale banner out front helps. It also helps if you decorate up front," Sandy Anderson, owner of Gardnerville's Country Carousel, said in a previous story.

Anderson spent a week decorating the exterior of her store with lights, snowflakes, wreaths and trees.

"I used to go up on the roof, but I'm not doing that anymore," she said. "When all of us downtown are decorating it makes the area user-friendly for everyone. We want people to come downtown and see all the stores."

Anderson is also a board member of the Main Street Gardnerville revitalization program, which earlier this month called on residents to support Main Street by shopping for gifts at local businesses first.

"Our historic buildings, festive holiday decorations, friendly merchants, and unique gift selection all make shopping on Main Street a great experience," wrote Marcia Voeller, chair of the Main Street board and owner of Especially For You on Eddy Street. "Holiday shopping on Main Street is an enjoyable alternative to fighting the crowds in other high traffic stores. We invite people to spread the holiday spirit where it counts - at home."

Will residents respond to the good will of local shop owners and their abundance of Christmas flair?

Roxanne Stangle, owner of Tumblewind Antiques & Collectibles in downtown Minden, seems to think so.

"Over the last couple of years, more and more people have been shopping for Christmas presents here," said Stangle, who has been in business for 22 years, first as a clothing store. "People are becoming very nostalgic, wanting to get back to grandpa and grandma, to slower times, trying to find those happy times. When you walk through this store, it's hard not to smile."

For example, Stangle said, customers have been buying antique baking items, old cookie cutters and Pyrex dishes.

"It's the same thing mom used, or grandma used," she said.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, and no time is it more potent than during the holidays. Anyone can feel it walking down the street - in the glowing, soft-pointed shape of a Christmas tree behind an ice-covered window, or in the lofty, incandescent gazebo of Minden Park.

Critics of the Walmart in south Gardnerville have pleaded for the preservation of the Valley's small-town feel, its warm homeyness and nostalgic temper. But wanting a small-town aesthetic is one thing. Spending the bucks and working the hours to make it happen is another.

Yes, nostalgia is a powerful force. Yes, the holidays are beautiful. But can the magic of the season lift the low-sales trend that's been shuttering stores around the country?

"When it's the worst U.S. recession in 70 years, and the worst global recession since World War II, everyone gets hit," economist Jeff Thredgold told an audience last month. "We're at a transition point where the U.S. economy is moving back towards growth and state economies are bottoming out. By the middle of next year, I think you'll start seeing better monthly numbers."

Let's hope so. I admit that buying gifts at a box store is sometimes cheap and easy. But then, on the other hand, I must admit that buying a gift at a local shop always makes that gift seem more special, and the act of giving more significant.

Whatever your wish list, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


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