The winter wonderland for which organizers of Northfield’s 22nd annual Winter Walk fervently wish may materialize after all.
Scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, Winter Walk resumes, following its understandable 2020 break, in the wake of a Tuesday snowfall and a forecasted 50% chance of further fluffy white stuff falling on the prescribed date.
“It was dubbed Winter Walk for a reason,” said Jane Bartho, director of membership and events at the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism. “The only thing we don’t have control over is gently falling light snow, but I would love that, because it makes things magical.”
“It feels like you’re in a snow globe when we have snowfall for Winter Walk,” said Carrie Carroll, interim executive director of Northfield Shares, a group that sources some of Winter Walk’s numerous volunteers.
Northfielders know this is a night not to miss, with downtown shop windows glowing, merchants beckoning, music playing, Santa bending to kids’ whispered lists, elves and carolers strolling, warm drinks abounding and more than 1,000 luminaries illuminating all the charm the historic downtown shopping district offers.
“This is one of our favorite events of the whole year,” said Joan Spaulding, owner of the HideAway Coffeehouse and Wine Bar on Division Street. “It’s just a joy-filled evening and a fun kickoff to the holidays, because you see so many friends and neighbors out enjoying Northfield. And it’s a great night for all downtown businesses, because it’s a feeder for the rest of the Christmas season.”
Spaulding, voted the Chamber’s 2021 Businessperson of the Year, does her part to share Winter Walk pleasure by providing live music (a string bass/piano duo is on tap), hot chocolate, mulled wine — and half-price bottles of wine — a regular HideAway feature on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
“That conveniently coincides with Winter Walk,” said Spaulding.
Bartho emphasizes that retailers and restaurants of all sorts display their warmest hospitality at Winter Walk, and the list of offerings, special deals and entertainment options is lengthy.
“Winter Walk’s theme is ‘Share Joy, Shop Small,’ and that’s the Chamber’s goal — keeping things local,” said Bartho. “There isn’t too much you need that you can’t find right here in Northfield.”
Among Winter Walk’s numerous delights are the “showmobile” with featured entertainment, starting with Santa’s arrival on a firetruck and his ceremonial lighting of the Bridge Square tree (sponsored by Hometown Credit Union) at 5 p.m.
“Mayor Rhonda Pownell will say a few words, the lights will go on and the sixth graders will sing,” said Bartho, noting the brief opening ceremony’s elements.
Leading those singing sixth graders is Michelle Bendett, choir director at Northfield Middle School (NMS).
“Winter Walk performances have been an NMS choir tradition for many years, so we were disappointed when last year’s event was canceled,” said Bendett, who surely had good company in that disappointment. “It’s thrilling for us to bring back our music to our beloved Northfield community, and the enthusiasm from our singers and their parents is stronger than ever.”
With a repertoire ranging from contemporary numbers to holiday favorites, Bendett will lead with her sixth grade singers at 5 p.m., her seventh graders at 6 p.m. and her eighth graders at 7 p.m.
The middle school choir kids are far from the only music-makers at Winter Walk; Bartho assures that carolers croon and instrumentalists play along the lit-up streets, which are conveniently closed to traffic for the evening. Bartho and Chamber CEO Lisa Peterson are also on the lookout for a mysterious trumpeter who materializes at each Winter Walk to beautifully serenade strollers and shoppers.
“It adds so much,” said Bartho of the various music performers.
The Northfield Public Library gets in on the fun, too, starting with craft stations at 4 p.m. and various other interactive activities for kids (and trivia contests for adults), throughout the night. (Visit nynpl.libcal.com for a full listing of the library’s Winter Walk schedule.)
One relative newcomer to the downtown Northfield scene is hairstylist Carissa Erickson, who since August 2020 has provided color and cuts “for all humans’ hair” at Coiffure Salon near Cakewalk.
For her first Winter Walk, Erickson plans to offer free gift wrapping (for goods purchased anywhere downtown) to all comers, and she has several dozen small salon-related gift bags to distribute.
“I like working with my hands, and I enjoy gift-wrapping — but I don’t like paper cuts,” said Erickson. “And I hope it snows so we can get the full Winter Walk experience.”
Typically, that experience includes free horse-drawn wagon rides up and down Division, and this year, Neuger Communications will host an outdoor warming area in their parking lot. Also good to note: Northfield Community Church, 713 Division, is offering its restrooms and other indoor spaces for nursing mothers and/or warming. Additional free public restrooms are available at the library and in the Northfield Historical Society, where an indoor Santa will provide an alternative to the Bridge Square St. Nick.
The Chamber credits all sponsors who make Winter Walk’s special features possible, as well as its roughly six dozen Winter Walk volunteers.
Those volunteers assist with everything from placing and lighting the 1,000+ luminaries to dressing up as Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph or elves to assisting people on and off the wagons.
“This is what makes us run,” said Bartho. “The sponsors and volunteers behind us help make Winter Walk look effortless and appear magical.”