By RENEE FITE
Store lights gleaned through downtown windows into the night Thursday, as laughing shoppers strolled between open shops, even as a light rain came and went.
The Wines of Winter celebration gave businesses a chance to show off their merchandise during an entertaining evening, with some offering sales and finding new fans who had not been in their stores before. Prizes were passed out in several stores, but the grand prize winner was Corey Cook of Tahlequah.
The Tahlequah Main Street event started with the purchase of a wristband and Wines of Winter wine glass for $15 at the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce office downtown, where they also received a map pinpointing participating businesses and guide to wines featured at each business. After that, participants could visit all stores open late for the occasion, register for prizes and sample wines.
Donivan Riddle came for the Summerside wine, served at Cochran Real Estate.
“It’s awesome!” Riddle said. “They’re good people.”
A Main Street board member, Tom Barnard, likes the wine-tasting because it draws traffic into the merchants’ stores.
“It’s good to get out and meet people. Anytime you get this many people downtown, you’re going to meet new friends,” Barnard said.
Main Street Director Drew Haley was pleased with the turnout.
“It does two main things: It’s a retail event for the downtown stores. They’re full and it’s good for their business,” said Haley. “And for Main Street, it’s a fundraiser. It’s an awesome social event. I think a lot of people come for the social aspect.”
Just talking to people up and down the street Thursday, Haley heard of people buying two tickets: one for themselves, and one for an out-of-town friend.
“It’s a boost for the merchants after Christmas, in February, when it might be slow,” he said. “Over the next few weeks, sales hold up for people who see something tonight and come back and get it.”
The first time the event was held, Haley said, Morgan’s Bakery owner Linda Shoun had customers who had never been in before.
“How could you have not ever been in there?” Haley wondered of the decades-old downtown bakery. “People are discovering new businesses they haven’t been in before.”
Eleven new businesses opened downtown in 2012, Haley added.
At Cochran Real Estate, Rita Courtwright was sampling Summerside wine with her friend, Mieke Price, from Muskogee. It’s their second time to come to Wines of Winter.
“I think it’s great for the economy of the town. I heard last year this event generated more than $21,000,” Courtwright said.
Mark Hildreth, Cochran associate, enjoyed the social networking, along with chatting with another associate, Kristi Torkelson, as they co-hosted.
Hildreth liked “seeing people I haven’t seen in a while,” and learning about the wines. For Torkelson, networking was the key.
“People are cheerful and ready to taste the wines,” she said, as she greeted City Councilor Linda Spyres.
Summerside Wine maker Bronson Kirby said the event is a good way to get the brand name out and to coax people to try the wine without buying a bottle. He enjoys coming to events in Tahlequah.
“The atmosphere is really fun here and the people are laid-back,” he said. “We aim for smooth flavor with our wine, We have a lot of flavors and variety and tastes for people.”
It was Brittney Phipps’ first time to try the wine.
“I like the fruity sweet ones. And all the people having fun,” she said.
Ashley Grant works in Muskogee and especially liked visiting the different businesses.
“We came last year and enjoyed it,” Grant said. “I don’t usually get to come downtown to shop because I don’t make it here during business hours.”
The special sales in the stores appealed to Lisa Johnston.
“This event brings the community out; it’s an affordable event and you keep the glass,” she said.
Justin Vann, who was with friend Cekuwe Locust, said there are a lot of good stores downtown.
“Neat Stuff is the only place that had beer. I really liked their stuff, the old-school video games and board games,” he said.
Chelsea Buttress, manning the fort at Meigs Jewelry, said Wines of Winters really gets a lot of people through the door who might not come in on their own.
“It lets people see what downtown is all about, and the expansion and improvements, the progress downtown,” she said.
Suzanne McLendon, who came all the way from Stillwater, thinks her city needs to stage something similar.
“I think it’s really for the downtown to stay alive,” McClendon said. “It’s really important for economic and community development. And it encourages business owners to come into downtown areas to stay.”
Colleen Ketcher and Shay Smith, a new Main Street board member, were greeting visitors to Edie’s Fashions and Gifts.
“There have been a lot of people out tonight and they seem to really be having a good time, enjoying the food and each other’s company,” Ketcher said. “They’re doing some purchasing.”
When she was pouring wine at Edie’s, Smith said he heard people say, “This is a really nice store; it’s the first time I’ve been in here.”
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