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Holiday spirit reigns at downtown event



The Window Wonderland riddle displayed at Irish Eyes in downtown Fredericksburg had Kevin Ward and Cindy Love stumped.

Could the grouchy character referred to in the first two lines have been played by the same actor who provided the voice for a cartoon character? Ward wondered.

“Was there a Mr. Magoo Christmas movie?” he asked.

Love snapped a picture of the riddle with her iPhone and then began Googling the name to find out.

Her search was all part of the afternoon’s fun for the Stafford County residents, who were strolling along Caroline Street with their families on Sunday during downtown’s annual open house.

Retailers, restaurants and other businesses used the weekend event to kick off the holiday season. They decorated their store windows, offered special sales and, in some cases, treats such as the samples of wine and other goodies offered by the Made in Virginia Store at 907 Caroline St.

“We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather,” said Kathryne Mitchell, who owns Made in Virginia with her husband, John.

The city also helped lure shoppers downtown by decorating lampposts with garland and big red bows, and by co-sponsoring the second Window Wonderland contest. It encourages people to solve riddles about holiday movies for more than $4,000 in prizes. The deadline to turn in answers is Dec. 31.

Several merchants said Saturday’s business was more brisk this year than last, although things slowed a little on Sunday. Still, it was busy enough on Sunday that Nina and Larry Branham of Spotsylvania County said they had to drive around downtown four times to find a parking place.

“I figure all these people can’t be wrong,” Nina Branham said as she and her husband listened to The Believers play bluegrass near Cose Belle Boutique, 1002 Caroline St.

Across the street, Whittingham bustled with customers looking for holiday décor and home furnishings among the shop’s high-end items.

“I think things are looking up in a very good way,” owner Bob Whittingham said between helping customers. “The election is over. People are in a good mood. If you’ve got good merchandise, it’s going to be a great season.”

Marc Ast, who owns The Frenchman’s Corner at 620 Caroline St., said that his gourmet food and kitchenware shop had about a third more business on Saturday compared with last year’s Saturday open house.

“We had a wonderful crowd,” he said.

But he noted that about half of his customers were paying in cash for his Neuhaus chocolates and other items instead of using credit cards. The average sale was $15 to $16, he said, which was about $5 less than a year ago.

“People are being more watchful and careful,” Ast said.

Cindy Dennis, who manages Quilts N Treasures at 814 Caroline St., said she anticipates that many of the customers who came in to her shop with their children this weekend will be back unaccompanied later on to buy Madeline dolls, Playmobil sets and other toys to put under the Christmas tree.

“Today is really a family day,” she said.

That was true for Keith and Debi Harrison of Spotsylvania, who were driving along the 1000 block of Caroline Street when their three young children spotted Santa. They begged to go sit on his lap and get their pictures taken.

Santa, whose helpers were promoting the Trees of Hope benefit for Hope House, persuaded 9-year-old Luci Harrison to let him sit on her lap while her parents snapped their picture.

“I want a red Hummer and an ATM that gives me cash,” he joked.

Then he let Luci sit on his lap and whisper what she wanted for Christmas.

“A boyfriend!?!” he teased, which made Luci giggle.

Afterward, she and her siblings, Addie, 6, and Cole, 4, took part in Trees of Hope’s new program for children. For a donation, they got to decorate 2½-foot tall Christmas trees with a variety of trimmings.

“It’s raised a couple hundred dollars,” said Ken Kroko, who is on the Trees of Hope committee. “Every dollar counts.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407