LENOX — To avoid any perception that the downtown village could turn into a ghost town during the off-season, the business community has organized its first holiday shopping, dining and entertainment festival.
The aim is to get a bigger slice of the pre-Christmas shopping pie, long dominated by similar attractions in Stockbridge, Williamstown, Dalton, Great Barrington and other communities.
The Dec. 4-6 weekend, "Making Spirits Bright," was set up by volunteers and is endorsed and supported by the Chamber of Commerce, the Lenox Merchants Group and the town.
The family friendly festival includes the town's traditional Christmas tree lighting, shopping parties, a Santa-themed pub crawl, strolling carolers and a seasonal choral performance.
"I hope it brings everybody together in a real old-fashioned, small-town holiday experience, a feeling of camaraderie to celebrate the season," said Doris Barsauskas, co-founder of the Lenox Merchants Group, a co-organizer of the festival and proprietor of MacKimmie Company, a downtown home and lifestyle shop.
"This is an event that hopefully will put that [ghost town] misconception to bed," she said, citing the Shop Lenox Facebook page, which maps the town's shopping destinations and lists winter hours of operation. "There are more shops and businesses open than closed, and in the past we weren't communicating that," Barsauskas said.
She also commended town leaders for reaching out and helping organize the weekend event.
"You look at Lenox and you think it should be the perfect kind of Christmas holiday town," said volunteer coordinator Kameron Spaulding. "It has an idyllic, beautiful downtown, usually there's a little bit of snow, so it looks like a Christmas-card kind of town."
The challenge was to pull together individual events already scheduled, add new ones, and wrap the offerings into a celebratory weekend.
"If we put all of these together, there's a lot for people to see and do in downtown Lenox," Spaulding commented.
The lack of an organized pre-holiday event has been a "missed opportunity" for local residents as well as businesses, Spaulding acknowledged, since the season represents a crucial window for retailers to reach their profit margins.
"We all know Lenox quiets down in the winter," he added. But Spaulding said the formation last year of "Shop Lenox" by the Lenox Merchants Group of 34 retailers and galleries, presents an opportunity to attract area residents as well as visitors to do some of their gift-buying locally.
Despite the notion that most shops cater to affluent tourists and second-home owners, Spaulding emphasized that "in almost every retail store downtown, you can buy an item for under $10."
"It's more of a perception than a reality," he declared, referring to the town's high-end image.
To attract day-trippers, the weekend event is being promoted in the Springfield and Albany areas.
On Friday evening, Dec. 4, the 6 p.m. lighting of the town Christmas Tree in Lilac Park, accompanied by caroling and a visit by Santa aboard a fire truck, will be followed by a gathering at the Community Center for refreshments and a sing-along.
From 5 to 9 p.m., many stores will offer wine, champagne and cheese, discounts and gift-wrapping as part of "Lite Up the Night Shopping Parties." Nejaime's Wine Cellar will hold a wine tasting with live music on Friday night, as well as all day Saturday and Sunday.
A new Friday night attraction is a "Santa Bar Crawl," with six participating restaurants from 8:30-11 p.m. The Olde Heritage Tavern, Alta, Firefly, Frankie's, Brava and Bagel & Brew. A ticket costing $10 (available online at www.eventbrite.com) will admit patrons to the party scene, including snacks and refreshments.
"It's a great way to get young people into Lenox," Spaulding said.
Proceeds from ticket sales and tip jars will be donated to the Lenox Community Center to help support a renovation of the children's game room. The goal is to raise up to $2,000.
On Saturday, Dec. 5, the Holiday Stroll from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. includes hot-chocolate stations, a chili bar outside the Firefly restaurant on Church Street and a photo booth. Strolling carolers of professionals and students from area schools will add to the festive mood. Carolers from Shakespeare and Company will perform scenes from their adaptation of the film classic, "It's a Wonderful Life."
"Christmas at Trinity," a 3 p.m. Sunday concert by the Cantilena Chamber Choir and the Berkshire Children's Chorus, will be at Trinity Episcopal Church. Tickets can be purchased at local shops or galleries and online at www.cantilenachoir.org.
Also at 3 p.m., Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum is offering a Victorian tea with music by pianist Karen Tchougourian. Admission ($40) is by reservation only at gildedage.org.
A Hanukkah celebration, including a Menorah lighting, will be held at the Gateways Inn on Saturday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m.
"Expectations are always tough when you start something like this," Spaulding said. "Everyone wants everything to be a grand success. The fact that with six weeks of organizing, we've gotten all these events together — that in itself is a success."
"If it works for the business community, then it will happen again," he said. "I'm very confident it will."
The inaugural "Making Spirits Bright" holiday festival weekend is slated Dec. 4-6 in downtown Lenox. Among the highlights:
FRIDAY, DEC. 4
5-9 p.m.: "Lite Up the Night." Town-wide "Mall-ternative" shopping parties with discounts, refreshments, light fare, music.
6 p.m.: Christmas Tree Lighting, Lilac Park, followed by celebration at the Lenox Community Center.
8:30-11 p.m.: Santa Bar Crawl. Six participating restaurants, tickets at $10 for admission.
SATURDAY, DEC. 5
11 a.m.-7 p.m.: Lenox Holiday Stroll. Entertainment includes caroling by the Cantilena Chamber Choir, Lenox Memorial High School students, Berkshire Country Day School, Berkshire Christian School and Berkshire Montessori School. Special appearances by Shakespeare & Co. and WAM (Women Action Media). Restaurant tastings and refreshments; discounts at stores, mulled cider and cookies throughout town.
SUNDAY, DEC. 6
3 p.m.: Christmas at Trinity. Concert by the Cantilena Chamber Choir and the Berkshire Children's Chorus, Trinity Episcopal Church, 88 Walker St. Tickets $20 (seniors $15) at www.cantilenachoir.org or from downtown shops and galleries.
3 p.m.: Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum: Victorian Tea & Concert: By reservation only, $40, deadline Nov. 27, at gildedage.org.