Decked-out storefronts unite Florence

Kelley Peters, Staff Writer

In downtown Florence, storefronts feature colorful displays celebrating each season. Those walking down the streets stop to look, intrigued by the elaborate designs, and decide to see what awaits inside. This is the mission of the Downtown Florence Alliance’s Window Decorating Contest. 

Hosted quarterly, the competition’s guidelines are simple: businesses are encouraged to refresh their displays creatively and with seasonal themes in order to gain more foot traffic downtown and encourage customers to come inside stores. The end goal, however, goes much deeper than just marketing. 

Chris Stangel, director of the Downtown Florence Alliance, feels that the competition is a way to enhance the sense of community and creativity among Florence residents. 

“It was born out of celebrating the unique place and the creative side of Florence,” said Stangel. “It’s reflective through the businesses, on the campus and throughout the community. This was an opportunity to allow business owners to have a dialogue with people they’d like to come in and join them in their storefronts. It encourages them to walk up and down the streets and see what we do and who we are.”

To express each store’s unique atmosphere and the array of products that they offer, businesses are welcome to interpret the theme of the quarter as they see fit. Curating a display that shows just what a store is about can draw people in and increase the popularity of downtown, which benefits all business owners.

“I reference it as a friendly competition,” said Stangel. “It’s not so much about us wanting to make it one over the other. We want to give a platform and encourage people to tell a story. Each of the storefronts tell a collective story: we are creative. We are a community. We are fun. We are funky. One of the reasons that we encourage people to come down here is to be a part of that energy. It’s an invitation.” 

The board and committee of the Downtown Florence Alliance come together to select a winner for each quarter. They take into consideration who embodied the theme of that quarter the best, as well as what storefronts got people talking. Increased customer engagement, chatter on social media and larger amounts of people frequenting downtown are all signs of an effective and engaging display. 

One business that participates in the competition is Rollies, an ice cream and boba shop. Owner Abigail Ray expressed her love for the collaborative effort to decorate that has extended beyond individual stores and now encompasses the entirety of downtown. 

“It’s something that we enjoy doing: getting to display stuff,” said Ray. “It gets people to come inside. It’s also really fun just to drive around and see everybody’s different take on whatever season or holiday it is. I know, as a patron of other businesses, I really like seeing that. It’s really cool to see what they’ve got in store, so we like to do the same thing.”

Kristin O’Kain, owner of Dandelion & Co, a tea and coffee bar, sees the opportunity to decorate her storefront as not only a creative endeavor but also a way to bring joy to others.

“I enjoy seeing people happy,” said O’Kain. “Kids walk by and get excited, and the grandparent or parent will lift them up to see. It’s a happy moment, and as cheesy as it sounds, I like to make people happy. I see the windows as an opportunity. Sometimes people never come in, but they see what’s in the windows, and I can maybe change their day by that.” 

Stangel encourages students to become involved by walking around downtown, visiting shops that they have not tried before and supporting local businesses. 

“I hope it encourages more people to come to downtown Florence,” said Ray. “Even if they’re not in here buying with us, maybe they’ll see our window and think that it looks cool, and maybe they’ll check it out next time. If my neighbors are getting business, I think that’s awesome, because I love them dearly and want them to do well. If we’re all doing well, then we’re going to move forward together.”