Busy sidewalks filled with shoppers and Christmas lights, musicians playing holiday songs, kids roasting marshmallows over a crackling fire.
This was the scene in Frederick for “Frosty Friday” as the holiday shopping season had its semi-official opening.
The Downtown Frederick Partnership’s annual celebration of shopping locally kicked off its 19th year early Friday, with a large portion of the downtown area’s businesses offering extended hours and some deals to attract the early birds. The party kept going well after the sun went down, with holiday music, festive cocktails for the adults and marshmallow roasting for the young and the young-at-heart.
Jade Dunhour, promotion and events manager for the Downtown Frederick Partnership, said it can be hard to estimate just how many shoppers were brought downtown for the event, but all metrics point to it being a smashing success.
“It has been so busy downtown. It’s great for our downtown businesses and restaurants,” Dunhour said.
Dunhour pointed to the Snowflake Tree as one of the markers of just how busy — and lucrative — the day was. The Downtown Frederick Partnership offered one of 100 gifts from under the Snowflake Tree to any shopper who spent a combined $100 at two or more downtown businesses.
All of those gifts were claimed in under three hours, Dunhour said, which means the lucky gift winners are responsible for a minimum of $10,000 in spending on Friday alone.
“There was a lot of spending this morning,” Dunhour said with a laugh.
As for another success, Dunhour said signs point to a return to normal as compared to last year’s Frosty Friday.
“Obviously this is much busier than last year, but this is what we typically see,” she said. “We think we’re back to pre-pandemic levels of downtown business.”
This seems on trend with Black Friday nationwide.
So far, Black Friday sales — including online — were up 12.1 percent by morning, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all types of spending, including cash and credit cards. Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard, called the start “impressive,” but the sales were still tracking below its 20 percent growth forecast for the day, according to The Associated Press.
Overall holiday sales are expected to grow this year. For the November and December period, the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, predicts that sales will increase between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent. Holiday sales increased about 8 percent in 2020 when shoppers, locked down during the early part of the pandemic, spent their money on pajamas and home goods.
While Black Friday has a strong hold on Americans’ imaginations as a day of crazed shopping, it has lost stature over the past decade as stores opened on Thanksgiving and shopping shifted to Amazon and other online retailers.
The pandemic led many retailers to close stores on Thanksgiving Day and push discounts on their websites, starting as early as October. That’s continuing this year, although there are deals in stores as well.
Marlene England, co-owner of the Curious Iguana bookstore on Market Street, said Frosty Friday is the “big kickoff” to the store’s holiday shopping season.
“We’ve got extra booksellers on hand today to make recommendations, to help match people with the right books and make recommendations,” she said. “Really, it’s one of our favorite days of the year, just because the holiday spirit of the downtown is so wonderful.”
According to England, the day got off to a busier start than it normally does.
“It’s been busy so far,” she said at around noon. “We’ve seen more people earlier today; usually it’s kind of a slow build, but I feel like we were busier sooner in the day. I think a lot of people were out shopping early today.”
Over at the Trail House, one of Frederick’s longest-standing establishments that specializes in selling outdoor gear, co-owner Catie Hicks spoke to a similar level of success.
“We actually had some people waiting outside right when we opened at 9 a.m., which is early for us since we normally open at 10,” Hicks explained. “We had 20 percent off everything for the first hour, and we had a lot of people take advantage of that, which is great.”
Since that point, Hicks said the store was consistently busy.
“We’ve had a steady flow of people throughout the day, doing some Christmas shopping and some browsing, maybe buying things just for themselves,” she said. “It’s been a good day so far.”
As the sun started to set, fire pits started to be lit around downtown, with each pit being overseen by a group of volunteers, handing out marshmallows to roast to any interested passersby.
One of those marshmallow-roasting operations was being staffed by Minerva’s Mechanics and Apollo’s Architects, two teams of high school robot builders from Brunswick High School, and they brought along a poster board explaining what they do and how competitive robot building benefits their education. The teams compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge, a national competition challenging students to build the most impressive working robots.
Faculty mentor and coach of the team Ashley Benitez-Smith said the marshmallow stand was a good way to get the students into the community. Student team member Anna Davies agreed.
“We’re really excited to be working with the community because a big part of our team is helping people learn about robotics and what the FIRST Tech Challenge is,” Davies said, adding the group was a great way to build relationships in addition to robots.
Davies said numerous people talked about their own experience in science and technology careers while roasting marshmallows with the students.
“It’s been really nice connecting with other people because everyone has their own unique perspective,” Davies said.
Later in the evening, the Lindsay family from Monrovia was walking along Carroll Creek after a successful day of holiday shopping. Jane Lindsay said she was thrilled to be able to support local businesses on Friday while also getting major portions of her shopping done.
“We were here earlier,” she said Friday evening. “I love that the stores all work together to make this a family-friendly, safe, engaging, vibrant downtown. “We like to support local and buy unique gifts.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.