COLUMBIANA — The small-town feel of Christmas has returned to this city.
Christmas music piped through the downtown Saturday as merchants opened their doors and people lined the streets for the annual Christmas parade. The event was part of a weekend full of programs that included a Christmas-tree-lighting Thursday. Merchant open houses continue from 1 to 5 p.m. today.
Strolling performers entertained the crowds, and the parade included old cars, llamas and miniature horses.
Santa Claus arrived on the back of a firetruck to the delight of children who waited in a long line to tell him what they wanted for Christmas.
Five-year-old Paige Fuller of Salem was first in line, excited to tell Santa that she is hoping he will bring her a guitar so she can make music. Her cousin, Emily King, 12, of Columbiana, posed with Santa and requested a laptop.
Their grandfather, David Spayde, also of Columbiana, said he takes the girls each year so they can see Santa and he can watch the parade of old cars. They also enjoy seeing people from the community they don’t usually see throughout the year.
“It’s a small-town environment,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody, and those who don’t eventually will.”
Tricia Wilson and her sister Tammy Mannion grew up in Petersburg, but said they’ve been attending the parade for about 10 years with their mom and children. Mannion, of New Springfield, said Columbiana’s “old-town charm” brings people out to annual holiday events.
In addition to kicking off the holiday season and getting people in the holiday spirit, the event serves as a showcase for downtown merchants, which include antique and gift shops, restaurants, a barbershop, salon, Main Street Theater, tattoo parlor and coffee shop.
Rhonda Pahanish, owner of Primitive Gatherings, a home d cor and folk art store on East Park Avenue, said annual Christmas events provide a big boost for businesses and bring in shoppers from outside the community, even from Pittsburgh and surrounding suburbs.
Pahanish estimates that business this weekend is up about 30 percent over last weekend.
The business has been in its current location for about three years. Pahanish said despite the down economy, sales are up slightly over last year.
In addition to the close-knit community feel, Pahanish said Columbiana offers a “unique shopping experience” where people can stroll from store to store, listen to Christmas music and see the lights on the square.
Dr. Ben Mrozek, who opened Tree of Life Chiropractic on East Park Avenue in April, handed out business cards, introduced himself to parade-goers and explained what his business has to offer.
Other forms of advertising haven’t been as successful, he said, explaining that a big community event is the perfect avenue for getting the word out.
“I’m trying to take advantage of the people being down here,” he said.