Multiple cities in the Gem State have taken on some semblance of a monthly downtown celebration. Cities like Idaho Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Boise have utilized once a month or seasonal activities to bring the community and businesses together.
Events like Idaho Falls First Thursday Gallery Walk encourage community members to take a walk and look at local art while eating appetizers. Others that happen during different seasons can range from Oktoberfest, where people can enjoy a local brew and music, to special holiday events for families to enjoy the downtown area while shopping or riding the complimentary horse-drawn trolley.
“We work very closely with our downtown businesses to both engage with them at our events, and then also help promote their specials and promotions through our newsletter,” said Catherine Smith, executive director of the Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation.
The partnership between businesses and customers usually ramps up nearing the holiday season, according to Smith, where the Downtown Development Corporation can see an increase in consumer engagement. With holiday events like visiting Santa and small business Saturday, which takes place the day after Black Friday, the cold weather will not stop the holiday fun.
“The first Saturday in December is to get kids downtown. The merchants hide this puppy, set the puppy up in the store, (then) the kids go in and they find the puppy. The merchant then marks (a) card and when they’re finished, they then end up at Weebee’s toys where Santa is,” Smith said. “So, the idea is to get families in most of these stores. With all these events, parents are kind of shocked. They’ll probably come back later to do their holiday shopping, so that’s really the goal.”
The Downtown Boise Association also hosts First Thursday events year round with local businesses and performers. During the middle months of 2021, Executive Director for the Downtown Boise Association Jennifer Hensley helped get people and businesses excited for the event by creating Supersized First Thursday events.
Roaming performers were hired to walk around and play music, dance or sing with customers and patrons wandering through downtown.
“We kicked it off (in May) with a handful of (local) nonprofits and performance nonprofits to roam around for the evening, and it really gave us a lot of entertainment,” Hensley said. “There was a really magical moment when the performers from the Philharmonic and the performers and dancers from the ballet ran into each other and ended up being in the same spot performing at the same time.”
A viola player from the Philharmonic looked over at one of the dancers and the two decided to team up for a performance, Hensley said. It was a unique moment when the two groups came together to create a fun and inviting atmosphere downtown for everyone to enjoy.
Hensley also noted that more businesses have become involved with the events once a month and the Downtown Boise Association can see the extra engagement through its social media campaigns. When a business wants to participate it will often repost the event information for its customers to see.
During the height of Supersized First Thursday, the Downtown Boise Association would receive about 75 posts from different businesses, whereas in a normal year it would be half the amount.
“We can remind people that they need to get their boots on the ground downtown and walk around,” Hensley said. “Remind them how magical and wonderful it is to be downtown and to connect with our local shop owners and all of these small businesses, so we think it was a wild success.”
Now with the colder months approaching and the holiday season around the corner, the Boise Downtown Association, like the Idaho Falls downtown, is kicking off the season with a small business Saturday celebration. The event will also begin with holiday-themed window paintings on almost every business downtown.
“We want downtown to still feel like it’s for everyone,” Hensley said. “You have this option to participate and be excited and see something really cheery and holiday (themed) that doesn’t cost anything; it’s great and it’s outdoors, so it’s safe.”
Safety is a number-one priority for both the downtown in Idaho Falls and Boise; the organizations have taken precautionary measures by utilizing outdoor spaces, reservation requests and making sure not to overcrowd areas.
The trolley that gives people complimentary rides around downtown Idaho Falls has utilized a reservation system in the past but has switched to a first come, first-serve basis for this year. Space heaters will be set up for customers to utilize and the trolley will have blankets available to help keep people warm.
“I just invite people to come out,” Smith said. “They will find things they didn’t even know existed in these stores and at restaurants downtown.”