Business owners say sales were down significantly for the landmark shopping event
City’s Annual Event Lackluster This Year
There were many words used to describe this year’s Nob Hill Shop and Stroll.
“Success” was not one of them.
The poor performance of what many in the Albuquerque small-business community view as the unofficial start of the Nob Hill holiday shopping season became apparent not long into the poorly attended Dec. 2 evening event.
The cause of the deserted sidewalks along Central Avenue was debated as well: the sudden onset of cold weather, poor marketing, lack of support from City Hall, and the neighborhood’s resident bogey man, the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.
The annual event has in the past featured a vibrant, festive and decorative Central Avenue closed off to vehicular traffic. This year, there were no luminarias or Christmas lights. Nor was a professional Santa Claus present. Noticeably fewer street musicians were out, said Ehren Salazar of Nob Hill Music.
Muted might be a good descriptor of the evening.
Another word heard during the evening was confused. Several merchants couldn’t understand why the Shop and Stroll event was held a day before the city-sponsored Twinkle Lights Parade, for which Central is blocked off for a parade that runs from Washington to Girard. No one we talked to could explain why they were no longer held simultaneously. Calls to a Department of Cultural Affairs spokesman weren’t returned.
Albuquerque native Sam Melada said he has attended Shop and Stroll with his son for each of the past three years. “People experience each other and experience a great neighborhood differently,” he said. “I don’t see as many people.”
Places like Nob Hill, made up mainly of locally owned businesses selling quirky specialty products, are becoming increasingly rare, said Ryan Holler, owner of Toad Road, a clothing store across the street from the Nob Hill Shopping Center. “I love Nob Hill. It would be very sad if it wasn’t around,” he said.
In the 11 years since Toad Road has been in Nob Hill, Shop and Stroll consistently brought first-time customers through his doors, he said, “even if they aren’t in our demographic, they see what’s going on, and we’re on their radar now.”
Although the neighborhood does its part to make the event happen, Holler said he wishes there was more buy-in to make it a success.
“You look at [something] like a Twinkle Light Parade – it’s on billboards, it’s everywhere, because it’s a city event,” he said. “We don’t get any city assistance.”
While there has clearly been City Hall support for revitalizing Downtown, Holler said Nob Hill has had to fight for things such as free parking during the holiday season, which “disappeared” under the administration of Mayor Richard Berry.
Following the start of construction in October of the ART project, the city made free parking available along Central Avenue east of Broadway but didn’t do much to spread the word, Holler said. Construction was paused through Jan. 2, however, “But they left it in a pretty construction-looking way,” he said.
Signs saying “free parking” on the construction equipment parked in the middle of the street or on the port-a-potty left in front of his store “would have been cool.”
Rory Veronda, owner of Empire Board Game Library, 3503 Central Ave. NE, called Thursday’s event a “bust.”
“There was no buzz” leading up to it, he said.
Larry Koch, owner of Larry’s Hats, 3102 Central Ave. SE, held a publicized sale earlier in the day. Otherwise, this year’s Shop and Stroll would have seen worse than the 25 percent decline he saw from last year, he said. “Usually there are a lot more people,” he said.
“Even though we did well, we went home at 9, because there wasn’t anybody out there,” said Koch, who has been in Nob Hill for 33 years. He blamed the event’s “limp” performance on the construction on Central.
Steve Schroeder, owner of Nob Hill Music, 3419 Central Ave. NE, said Shop and Stroll has traditionally been the store’s best night of the year. So far this year, 13 other days have been better, he said.
“People avoid coming down here because of the mess,” he said.
Several vendors reported increased anxiety following recent cases of arson in the neighborhood, referring to it as a dark cloud over the heads of locals.
Nob Hill Holiday Shop and Stroll is not sanctioned by the City of Albuquerque. It is held independently of city government and is organized by Nob Hill Main Street, “a grassroots collaboration of dedicated residents, small businesses, and community organizations working together with local government agencies to revitalize blighted areas in the Nob Hill urban community.” The group did not respond to a request for comment for this article.