Crisp, clear weather greeted visitors arriving in San Juan Bautista on Nov. 14 to take part in the first day of the annual late evening holiday shopping event, which will happen every Saturday until Dec. 19.
Most of San Juan’s retail businesses close around 5 p.m during the rest of the year, but for the next few Saturdays, they will stay open until 7 p.m. Shoppers will be able to dine outdoors at the city’s restaurants before or after visiting the stores on Third Street, helping to support the tourism-driven city.
“The weather was perfect and we’ve had a wonderful turnout,” said Barbara Gonzales, owner of Visions (formerly Visions of Christmas). “Everybody has been in good spirits. We’ve had a lot of people come in and look around. Of course, they are shopping for Christmas decorations and we have had a lot of buyers.”
The festive mood of the shopping season was tempered with the realities of the pandemic. “Everyone has been very good about wearing masks,” said Gonzales. “They have been keeping up the social distancing and being patient with everything. Even with the virus, the idea that Christmas is coming still makes people happy.”
Local resident and recent San Juan Bautista City Council candidate Jackie Morris-Lopez was out shopping with her mother Eleanor after dining at the newly opened Smoke Point BBQ.
“Every year we come out for this and we just love it,” Morris-Lopez said. “It is nice we are having this since we can’t have any of the other Christmas events, like the parade.”
Eleanor agreed: “Everything is so nice. I am not looking for anything in particular, but there are so many pretty things everywhere that catch my eye. It is not like going to regular stores because these shops sell special things.”
With an economy that depends on the tourist dollar, San Juan Bautista merchants have struggled with the lack of regular foot traffic and the cancellation of the city’s calendar of events.
“We are trying to get more people into the city,” said Claudia Lopez, owner of the Guatemalan Boutique. “Obviously we need it so the small businesses here can thrive and survive during the pandemic. I have had a lot of people walk in and I am very happy with the results. I even had a couple of ladies who told me they made a point of coming in a little later so the merchants would not have all customers in the early evening. They told me they were trying to buy something from every store.”
Shopping at Lois’s Unique Home Furnishings, Paula Goetz revealed all the presents she had purchased for friends and family, but swore BenitoLink to secrecy.
“It is a great evening,” said Goetz. “I love this event and I love this store—the ‘Paris Store’ I call it. I came a couple of times last year and I came this year to buy some more things. I am sure over the next three weeks I will come back again.”
The shop’s owner, Lois Long, said it was nice to see people out and about again “after being cooped up for such a long time.”
“I think it will help make the holidays a little better for people and make them feel a little more like Christmas is coming,” she said.
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