Walking in a Winter Wanderland

You may remember City Lights, the annual Dallas holiday celebration of years past: a one-day event full of music, fireworks, Santa sightings, blocked-off streets, crowds of tens of thousands of people, and general over-the-top festivities.

The bad news: City Lights is no more. The good news: Downtown Wanderland, Downtown Dallas Inc.’s streamlined, reconfigured holiday celebration, is better—especially for downtown itself.

A DJ spins along Stone Street Gardens downtown.

A DJ spins along Stone Street Gardens downtown. Photo by Thomas Garza.

After some reflection, the folks behind Downtown Dallas Inc. realized that City Lights didn’t quite align with their goals. It was spectacular and popular, but it only brought people downtown for a single day. On top of that, it was very expensive. The holidays, they decided, needed an overhaul. “Our mission is to revitalize downtown and bring people downtown regularly,” Downtown Dallas Inc. marketing vice president Shalissa Perry says. “We didn’t have all these wonderful places to eat and shop even just a few years ago.”

They decided to utilize these businesses in their holiday event. The goal: create a festivity-filled shopping experience that would span the duration of the holiday season—giving people a reason to keep venturing into downtown and patronizing the restaurants and businesses that operate there. Downtown Wanderland was born.

The goal of Downtown Wanderland: create a festivity-filled shopping experience that would span the duration of the holiday season.

Put simply, Downtown Wanderland is a shop-eat-drink extravaganza that runs every week from Nov. 19 through Dec. 31, Thursday to Sunday. It features mural-painting, pop-up local artists, live music, photo-ops with Santa, Christmas card-worthy decor, and lots of shopping opportunities. The festivities span Main Street and comprise many of downtown’s surrounding businesses, especially shopping anchor Neiman Marcus. Participating businesses provide discounts (such as $2 hot chocolates from Cafe Estrada, complimentary nail art from Pink Toes Nail Bar, and $6 s’more martinis from Iron Cactus), many of which are unlocked using the special Wanderland bracelet issued upon making a purchase from a participating vendor. Photo ops include a brand-new Christmas tree and a 20-foot wreath at Main Street Garden.

“Downtown Wanderland is about making Dallas a destination all season long,” Perry says. “It’s about drawing business to local businesses and giving them a chance to shine. This is the whole downtown working together to bring people something magical.”

One of the pop-up shops at Unbranded.

One of the pop-up shops at Unbranded. Photo by Thomas Garza.

Downtown Dallas Inc. has partnered with Unbranded, a group that offers the creative community free retail space in the form of “pop up” shops. Unbranded, started by Matt Alexander (Need) and Bryan DeLuca (Foot Cardigan) in 2014, features a rotation of curated boutiques, artists, and entrepreneurs in the parking garage across from Neiman Marcus. Each week features 25 retailers vending everything from trendy baby clothes to jewelry to cheesecakes. In a similar vein, Wanderland has also introduced “park-it pop-ups,” local retailers operating out of small refurbished trailers. Since all the temporary shop space is provided at no cost, small business owners are given a chance to reach a broad range of consumers that they might not otherwise have access to.

“This provides space to people who wouldn’t be able to purchase a little booth at a holiday market,” Perry says. “Some of these people haven’t even sold a product face-to-face before.”

“If it works well, there’s no reason we couldn’t do something like this year round,” Shalissa Perry says.

For the thousands of people who live and work in downtown, Wanderland creates a festive environment and convenient, one-of-a-kind shopping opportunity. It also drives suburban-dwellers seeking a regular holiday destination to discover downtown and to patronize nearby businesses and homegrown retailers as they wander. “This is a good way to support local businesses and find truly unique gifts,” Perry says. “If it works well, there’s no reason we couldn’t do something like this year round.”

Video by Austin Dugger.

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