MARTINSBURG — Though the traditional holiday celebration in downtown Martinsburg looks a bit different this year, Queen Street businesses went above and beyond to welcome the community into their stores with special guests, photo opportunities and an abundance of holiday cheer for the socially distanced “Christmas on Main.”
With the tree pre-lit by Mayor Harriet Johnson on a live stream shared Thursday night in preparation for Friday night’s event, the public was invited to stop and take quick photos with the tree before venturing down Queen Street to support local stores, restaurants and food trucks.
Jillian Wyand, of Westwood Charm Boutique, said she was ecstatic to learn of Mainstreet Martinsburg’s plans to make the Christmas event happen, albeit it with a few new guidelines in place, as COVID-19 had been a huge hurdle for her and many other shops on Queen Street.
“I’ve had my business for four years and now, being downtown and trying to figure out all these new variables… it was a huge shift for me,” Wyand said. “I had no experience with web design…I just had to quickly teach myself, put my product out there and with that came added expenses. I was still in the store having to pay rent, I wasn’t saving money there but I had the added expenses of the website and poly mailers, all these different things that created more overhead. That was a challenge… like most other businesses the worst was the unknown…”
But Wyand said the positive outpouring of support she saw from the community throughout her transition to a brick and mortar to expanding to her online store to the celebration Friday afternoon was all the motivation she — and the community — needed to persevere.
“The community really showed up for us then and now. I feel like, as it is with anything, [today] is a sense of normalcy,” Wyand said. “We’re all looking for it in everything that we do. We just want those traditions, whatever that looks like to you. And so, as a store owner, we are all trying to be innovative to recreate that magic, that holiday spirit, the feeling of hustle and bustle holiday shopping… as shop owners we are just really hoping we can recreate that feeling and be able to apply those guidelines for safety while keeping the holiday spirit alive.”
And, to make sure those who stopped by her shop got to enjoy some of that holiday magic, Wyand said she had contacted someone with her Simply Southern clothing brand supplier and was able to have a brand-wrapped Simply Southern Jeep in front of her shop for photo opportunities while also giving away free gifts and holiday promotions.
Taking advantage of those visiting the square during Friday’s event, Kim Leaton, owner of Engage! with his wife Angie, said they had seen many of the same struggles described by Wyand, as had the rest of downtown.
“We opened right in the middle of this stuff and it’s been a challenge to just get the people in the door … we are surviving but its been a struggle because the people just aren’t coming out as we had expected,” Leaton said. “While the community has been very supportive through all of this, there are a lot of people who have no idea we are here. We need to get away from big box stores and come to main street where this is the community, this is what drives business for the community. We’ve got a lot of stuff planned but unfortunately we can’t make them happen right now.”
Leaton said he and Angie were very excited to learn of the plans to close Queen Street and create a socially distanced holiday experience for the community and went about trying to make the experience special with their own cameo by none other than the Marvel antihero Deadpool — or rather Leaton’s good friend dressed up as the comic book character.
“We are so excited to have the street closed and the people down here to see us,” Leaton said. “It means everything to us to have people show up for us in whatever they can because we wouldn’t be open if we didn’t have the community here to support us. We want people to be engaged and excited with us, to have a good time with us and events like tonight make that possible.”
In addition to enjoying holiday music, seeing the tree in its fully decorated glory and jumping on sales from Martinsburg’s own small businesses, event-goers were also treated to the unveiling of the Flowers Unlimited holiday window display, another tradition Mainstreet Martinsburg officials said they were glad not to lose.