With store windows decorated with Christmas trees, lights, Santas and snowmen, Downtown Jefferson City is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
For many, holiday shopping kicked off over the weekend during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.
The inaugural Downtown Holiday Hunt, this year's alternative to Downtown Living Windows, began Nov. 7 and will end Dec. 28. The Downtown Association's Holiday Window Decorating Contest for downtown businesses also began Friday.
To participate in the Holiday Hunt, people must pick up a "passport" at any participating business. Then participants can collect stamps on their passport by making purchases at participating businesses for the chance to win a gift card.
People have picked up passports at all participating businesses, Downtown Association Vice President Natalie Newville said.
"We've heard good things, and people are excited about it," she said. "It just kind of makes it another fun reason to go and visit some of your favorite local places."
Completed passports can be turned in by Dec. 30 at Missouri River Regional Library, 214 Adams St., or the downtown Hawthorn Bank, 132 E. High St.
Three winners will be drawn Dec. 31 — one for a $100 downtown gift card, one for a $50 downtown gift card and one for a $25 BarVino gift card.
Participating businesses include BarVino, Big Whiskey's, Carrie's Hallmark Shop, Click2Sell4U/Kay's Collectibles, Yanis Coffee Zone, Cork & Board, Downtown Book & Toy, The Grand Cafe, High Rise Bakery, Madison's Cafe, Missouri River Regional Library, Premium Pets, Ready Popped Kettle Corn and More, River City Florist, Samuel's Tuxedos and Gifts, The Snob Shop Exchange, Southbank Gift Company, Spectator's Sports Bar and Grill, Sue's Quilting Company, Sweet Smoke BBQ, Tolson Drug, Unique Creations Studio, and Unique Creations Candle Bar.
Nikki Payne, owner of The Snob Shop Exchange, and Sam Bushman, owner of Samuel's Tuxedos and Gifts, said late last week that holiday sales at their stores have been down by about 20 percent so far compared to last year because of COVID-19.
"It could always be better; it could always be worse, too," Bushman said.
Payne said about 40 percent of customers have used a Holiday Hunt passport, and Bushman said he hasn't seen many people use them.
Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, who owns Carrie's Hallmark Shop, said people are still shopping for the holidays, but many are shopping in different ways such as ordering items and doing curbside pickup or shopping by video-chatting with an employee.
Tergin encourages people to shop locally in a safe way, she said, whether it's by wearing a mask and social distancing or shopping without actually entering a store.
"There are so many ways, and I know that our local stores will absolutely accommodate our customers," she said.
About 15 businesses are participating in the Window Decorating Contest, Newville said.
"Celebrity judges," including Erin and Matt from 94.3 KAT Country radio and Andre Grinston from Lincoln University, will vote for first, second and third place, and area residents can vote for their favorite window via QR codes or website addresses found at the windows until Sunday. The business that receives the most votes from the community will win "People's Choice." Winners will be announced Dec. 7.
Newville said she hopes the Holiday Hunt and Window Decorating Contest will encourage more people to shop locally.
"These small businesses really help support our community year round, and it's been a tough year, so we really want to see our community support our small businesses," she said.