Chicagoans flock to Lights Festival downtown

November 20, 2010 (CHICAGO)

For retailers, it was a critical period Saturday. The hope was that all of those upbeat people would start shopping and power up the economy.

The lights festival is an early holiday season shot in the arm for the stores along Michigan Avenue, but for the thousands of people who ventured downtown, it was just a whole lot of fun. Chicago's Michigan Avenue is now glowing with more than 1 million lights on 200 trees, making for a truly Magnificent Mile.

"It's crazy. It's so much fun. I love it. All the people, all the motion, it's awesome," said spectator Jenny McKendry.

"Everyone is so friendly out here at this time of year. So, it's just an enjoyable experience," said Mike Cruz, who also attended the festival

This year's lights festival featured live music, colorful floats, and giant balloons, as well as a cast of familiar characters.

Onlooker Tremayne Hill said the best part was:

"When Mickey [Mouse], when he was dancing."

"My favorite part was seeing Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and all of them," Lea Waddle said.

For the fourth consecutive year, ABC7 broadcast the parade live. But for many, the best seat in the house was atop the shoulders of a loved one.

Lisa Christianson said her shoulders weren't getting tired from holding up a little boy.

"No, not too bad yet," she said. "It's warm enough. He's keeping me warm."

Many festival-goers had shopping bags in tow, and for the hotels, restaurants, and stores downtown, the pre-Thanksgiving event was way to jump start holiday business.

"This gives us the opportunity to really kick this off and almost add an extra week of shopping," said John Chikow of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association.

"I came to take advantage of the sales, and I did," shopper Pat Hamel said.

After two less-than-stellar holiday shopping seasons in a row, retailers have high hopes this year. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales across the country to rise more than 2 percent this year.

"We have seen consistent steady improvement. It hasn't been big numbers, but every month has been a little bit better than last month, and we expect that to continue," Chikow said.

"I was bothered that Christmas was starting so early, you know, but this just kind of sets it off, and the sales are phenomenal," said shopper Teresa Deeb.

Even with the large crowds downtown, city officials said there were no major problems or incidents.

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