WHEATON – The city began the season with its Lighted Holiday Parade Nov. 29, but there are still lots of opportunities for winter fun, including the upcoming Dickens of a Christmas Stroll.
Restaurants and retailers will offer free treats and deals from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 7 as a way to encourage patrons to support local businesses.
During last year's holiday parade, a business open house was held, according to Downtown Wheaton Association Executive Director Paula Barrington, but small businesses were overshadowed by all the festivities.
During a time of year when large retailers dominate airwaves and ad spaces, it was important to highlight local shops, she said.
"The first weekend of the holiday season is always more of a challenge for your small, independent business," Barrington said. "But once the dust settles, I feel confident that many of our local customers who love the personal and intimate service you get with a small business will come to Wheaton to get that."
Complimentary gingerbread cookies, candy, tea tastings, roasted chestnuts and other holiday goodies are among the dozens of treats the nearly 30 participating businesses will distribute.
Paul Rodriguez, owner of Suburban Music in downtown Wheaton, said he hoped the event – and the roving carolers his business will house – will create awareness as much as it generates revenue.
"There are people who are here their whole lives who come in and say 'I didn't even know there was a music store in my town,'" he said. "As places like the mall are getting more popular and it is easier to hit more stores in a small area, people aren't spending as much time in their own downtown."
For small business owners such as himself, Rodriguez said, a successful Christmas season is more important than one good Saturday or a busy few days before Christmas.
"We hope that people remember small businesses every day, not just Saturday," he said.
Other upcoming holiday events in Wheaton
• Cosley Zoo Festival of Lights and Trees – Zoo visitors can take in the lights and buy Christmas Trees from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (lights start at 3 p.m.), through Dec. 30, Cosley Zoo, 1356 N. Gary Ave.
• Santa visits – 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 21 (weather permitting), Martin Memorial Plaza
• Bad Christmas Sweater Contest and party – The Downtown Wheaton Association will host an open party with prizes at 3 p.m. Dec. 14, Muldoon's Eatery, 133 W. Front St.
• "Celebrate the Season" – Cantigny Park will host a day of events including a tree lighting, ice carving demonstrations, sleigh rides, live reindeer, music and more from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 7, 1s151 N. Winfield Road
• Winter carriage rides – 12 to 3 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 21, Martin Memorial Plaza
• Gingerbread house contest – Local businesses will compete for the title of "Best Gingerbread House" as determined by customers' votes. Through Dec. 21, various downtown Wheaton businesses
Free items at participating downtown businesses during the Dickens of a Christmas Stroll:
• Packets of holiday spices – Adelle's Fine American Fare • Popcorn – Bella Flora Mia • Mistletoe sprigs – Bella Roba • Mini Hershey bars – Best Way Rug Cleaners • Cider tasting – Billy's Closet • Lipsticks and treats – Clarice's • Candy canes – Crystal Earth Rock Shop • Free admission – DuPage Historical Museum • Starlite mints – Elements and Starrs • Cupcakes – Genghis Grill • Taste of peppermint ice cream – Graham's Fine Chocolates & Ice Cream • Gingerbread – Ivy • Toffee – Jeans and a Cute Top Shop • Cookies – Muldoon's Eatery • Aveda tea – Namaste Salon and Spa • French peppermint macarons – Pamplemousse Bakery • Mini ornament or decoration – Serenade • Tea tasting – Serene Teaz • Carolers – Suburban Music • Roasted chestnuts – Suzette's Creperie • Mulled spiced wine – Tasting Devine • Eggnog – The Bank Restaurant • Live modeling of winter wedding and formal attire – The Dress by Nicole • Christmas pens and pencils – Two Shopaholics • Candy cane pull – Wheaton Chamber of Commerce • Bells – Wheaton Drama • Kindling fire starters – Wheaton Mulch • Hot chocolate tasting – Wok N Fire