The Downtown Partnership plans to celebrate the holiday season in style, with a parade, carolers and holiday gift coupons.

The Downtown Partnership and several stores, restaurants and bars have put together free giveaway “checks” for downtown workers in Colorado Springs. Marketing to employees makes sense, said Beth Kosley, executive director of the Downtown Partnership.

“These workers are here, we just need to get them out of the buildings and exploring downtown,” she said. “These coupons, which also come with a map of downtown and a magnet detailing the arts locations in the area, are a way to do that. So often, people don’t leave their building or their street – we want them to see what we have to offer here.”

Downtown Colorado Springs will kick off the holiday season when the lights in the Christmas displays are turned on Nov. 25. The season continues with the annual holiday parade, the Festival of Lights, on Dec. 3. The parade route is up Cascade Street and down Tejon Street, Kosley said.

The city is offering free parking Dec. 10, Dec. 17 and Dec. 24. Carolers will serenade shoppers during Saturdays in December.

Stores present ‘Shopping by Candlelight’

Six retailers in downtown Colorado Springs are collaborating to bring shoppers to the area at night – after the stores are normally closed.

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Billed as “Shop by Candlelight,” Saboz, Kirk and Hill, Sole Mates, What’s in Store, Textures Gallery and Zerbe’s Jewelry store are staying open late, until 8 p.m., to draw shoppers on Dec. 2.

Shoppers are invited to celebrate the season with holiday specials, including a chance to win a $100 gift certificate from each participating store.

Dollar Tree opens in CaÑon City

Dollar Tree, the nation’s $1 discount variety store, celebrated its grand opening in CaÑon City last week

“We’re excited to offer CaÑon City consumers an opportunity to enjoy finding great values every day of the week. We are eager to serve the community by providing a fun and convenient shopping experience at a price that is right for everyone,” said Barbara Seman, vice president of marketing for Dollar Tree in a news release announcing the opening of the new store.

Dollar Tree Stores Inc. is one of the nation’s leading $1 discount variety store chains, offering an array of products including housewares, seasonal goods, food, toys, party goods, personal accessories, books, candles and more. As of July 30, Dollar Tree operated 2,856 stores in 48 states.

Retail sales increase in October

Retail sales rose 7.2 percent in October, according to the National Retail Federation. Sales also increased 1.1 percent seasonally from the previous month.

“Retailers seem to have found a tantalizing mix of enticing merchandise and tempting promotions, which is encouraging as the holiday season gets under way,” said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells. “If October sales are a sign of the consumers’ spirits, retailers will be in for a jolly holiday this year.”

October retail sales released by the U.S. Commerce Department show that retail sales, including automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, dipped 1 percent from September, due largely to sluggish automobile sales.

The NRF said that nearly every retail industry category saw strong sales last month, including building materials, garden equipment and supplies stores, which were up 14.1 percent over last year. Furniture and home furnishings stores saw an 8.5 percent increase, while electronics and appliance stores increased by 6.5 percent from October, 2004.

Gift card sales increase

Gift cards are making everyone’s Christmas list – both givers and receivers.

According to the National Retail Federation, gift card sales will total $18.48 billion this holiday season, an increase of 6.6 percent since 2004. The average consumer will spend $88.03 on gift cards.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the past few years,” said Laszlo Palos, manager of Terra Verde. “We’ve sold the gift certificates for years and years. Unlike some companies, we’ll honor them indefinitely – if you find one spring cleaning from 10 years ago, we’ll still honor it.”

Palos said the gift certificates are an easy choice for harried shoppers.

“People are so busy these days,” he said. “If they buy a gift card, they know the recipient will get what they want and will be pleased with their purchase. It doesn’t take long to come in and purchase one. We’ll even wrap it in a gift box for them.”

Many big box retailers use gift cards that can be activated at the cash register. The cards are a big hit for consumers and retailers.

“Gift cards take the guesswork out of giving and since they take up minimal shelf space, they are easy for retailers to stock and display,” said Tracy Mullin, NRF president and CEO.

More than three-quarters (75.5 percent) of consumers polled said that they plan on purchasing at least one gift card, and more than half (52.3 percent) of consumers would like to receive gift cards this holiday season, according to the NRF survey.

Amy Gillentine covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.