HollyJolly: A Fresh Perspective on Community Building

Last Friday evening, families gathered in downtown Grand Rapids to hear choirs sing, enjoy a visit from Santa Claus and watch the traditional Christmas tree lighting ceremony (40,000 lights!). But unlike years past, many chose to stay past the carols and visit one of over 45 downtown retailers during the first annual HollyJolly event, presented by Independent Bank. Retailers joined as a community, extending their normal hours and running in-store specials while customers enjoyed free trolley rides throughout the city and complimentary gift wrapping services.
“HollyJolly was meant to change the hearts and minds of the residents in Grand Rapids,” says Tina Derusha, event co-organizer along with Levitation Stagings' Tommy Allen. “We wanted to bring the nostalgic feeling back to downtown and create awareness of the fantastic retailers Grand Rapids has available.” HollyJolly encouraged exploration of the city to show residents that downtown is more than a playground, but a neighborhood with a vibrant community full of talented, local vendors.
Unlike any other retail event, HollyJolly was supported by The Downtown Development Authority, The Downtown Alliance and Experience Grand Rapids (along with many other sponsors). They collectively sought to bring a creative and collaborative element to the event by sponsoring a window display competition. The contest began on Dec. 2 and will run through Dec. 13. The winners will be announced on Dec. 14 with two $500 cash prizes; one for the People’s Choice Award and one for the Curator’s Award. You still have the opportunity to vote for your favorite window display by going to www.hollyjollygr.com and voting electronically. One lucky voter with a valid email will win an overnight stay at the J.W. Marriott.
HollyJolly went a step further and enlisted the help of local fashion students from Grand Rapids Community College. Marianne Bockheim, Professor at GRCC, partnered students from the fashion program with businesses to assist with designing and implementing the window displays. Bockheim hopes that events such as HollyJolly influence other retailers to invest and settle downtown. Creating these connections between retailers and emerging fashion talent is an important part of retaining new ideas and elevating the local fashion industry as a whole.
HollyJolly successfully attracted new customers to the area. Many of the stores surveyed such as Groskopfs, LiaRose, and MARKET, a pop-up artists' market at 10 Weston, reported increased sales and store attendance during the event. They were pleased that, despite the rain, so many people came out in support of local retail. “It makes so much more sense for there to be cooperation and collaboration between community organizations and businesses,” says Annamarie Buller, organizer of MARKET. “HollyJolly organizers were able to envision the event that brought us together in style.”

Video by Adam Bird Photography

Photos by Tommy Valdez

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