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Downtown shopping night then ... how 'bout now?

It was just such a day, I found myself running errands in Superior and decided to walk the few blocks between stops, bringing me to a place I've been anxious to explore since its move to Tower Avenue, Art on the Planet. I'm happy to say it exceeds my expectations.

I am delighted that we have a shop for local artists and artisans to showcase their work, and I'll say — it's about time. It was a pleasure to see so many mediums and styles represented. I chatted with one of the co-owners for a good 20 minutes.

Back in my car, heading north to catch Highway 2 for the drive home, I found myself reminiscing about an old, Superior tradition that I'm sure many of you remember — downtown shopping on Thursday night. For that one night each week, all the stores up and down Tower Avenue remained open until 9 p.m. It was more than a convenience for those who might not be able to do their shopping during regular 9 to 5 hours, it was about creating experiences and building community.

Whether just strolling the avenue and window shopping on a pleasant summer night, or browsing with a purpose to cross items off your list, it felt special. You were sure to run into people you knew, and stopping for a fountain treat at one of the dime store lunch counters was always on the agenda.

In the fall of the year, when night air turned cool, hot chocolate was the treat of choice, maybe with a squirt of whip cream. Even in winter, bundled up against the cold and snow, the warm glow of the lights coming from inside each shop and the twinkle of Christmas decorations as the season neared made it all seem magical.

Seeing all the new shops popping up along Tower Avenue makes me wonder, could we bring back Thursday shopping night — even just for the summer months? I know running a small business is a difficult undertaking — often requiring long days with little additional staff. Maybe stores could open later in the day once a week to compensate. Shopping night specials might draw people in and help boost sales. Perhaps the BID could join in by sponsoring promotions and fun activities to bring people downtown.

Superior doesn't have a lot of big box or discount store options left, but the bright side of that is what we're seeing take shape in our historical business districts with more unique, independent shops. These are the shopping districts I look for whenever I travel, and I'm especially excited to find them in restored downtowns. I think I'm not alone in seeking these shopping experiences, and I hope I'm not alone in my desire to see our new downtown continue to grow and thrive.

It's easy to strike up a conversation with store owners when visiting small shopping districts, to ask about activities or events (like the painting classes offered at Art on the Planet), and find out what the town has to offer.

For residents, I see it as an opportunity for staying connected to community. Much like stopping in for a cup of coffee and a donut at A Dozen Excuses or a cold beverage at 7-West Taphouse, regular patronage of small shops adds to the fabric of our community. Bringing back a designated shopping night would encourage social interaction and community engagement on a level Superior has not seen in some time.

If you haven't made a point to shop downtown I hope you will, soon. Chat with the business owners, drop a few of your discretionary spending dollars on something you won't find at a cookie-cutter chain store; you'll be helping a neighbor succeed and improving Superior's economic outlook.

While you're there, ask them what they think about bringing back a designated shopping night.

Judith Liebaert writes for Positively Superior and the Duluthian. She is the author of "Sins Of The Fathers," a crime novel set in Superior and inspired by a true cold case. Find her online at judithliebaert.com.

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