With slideshow: Midnight Madness attracts crowds as holiday shopping kicks off in downtown Ann Arbor
Downtown Ann Arbor lit up Friday night as shoppers packed the streets and stores, Santa posed for pictures, registers rang like silver bells, dollars flew into Galen buckets and robots sang Christmas (and Hanukkah) carols.
While it was too early for shopkeepers to gauge Midnight Madness receipts, many said sales were as brisk as the weather.
“I wish it was like this every day,” said Nina Juergens, owner of Acme Mercantile on West Liberty Street, purveyors of a funky mix of house wares, clothing, toys and gifts.
While Acme was offering a 20 percent off storewide sale all day, it wasn’t until nightfall that things began to get crazy, with lines sometime backed up to enter the store.Â
“People love the madness,” Juergens said.
The combination of sales, entertainment and streets aglitter with thousands of lights drew crowds to what has become the kickoff of the holiday sales season for many downtown merchants.
Lisa Ruby has made it a point to come to every Midnight Madness for more years than she can remember.
Â “I love Midnight Madness. It’s so festive,” she said. “We wander around. Eat a little. Run into people we know. Chat.”Â
And she shops. “It’s the only time of the year that Running Fit has 20 percent off,” she said.
Ruby also likes that the Galens Tag Drive is part of the night. “It’s a great charity and I like that they give you a tag. It’s a mark of kindness,” she said.
Justin Chamberlain and Dan Bickley were two of the Galen volunteers handing out the tags on Main Street. A second-year University of Michigan medical student, Chamberlain spent four hours on downtown street corners collecting money for Galens, a service organization of medical school students that aids children.
He said giving seemed to top last year, with donations ranging from 25 cents to $20.
“People are glad to see us out here,” he said. “It’s cold, but the goodness of people warms the heart and that’s not bad.”
By 6 p.m., Bickley, another second-year medical school student, had been soliciting for donations for eight hours and figured he’d collected between $400 and $500.
Â “Last year I was on campus and it’s hard to get money from students,” he said. “The townies are a little more generous.”
Across Main Street, the Center Stage quartet were singing Christmas and Hanukkah harmonies. Wearing matching gray coats, red hats and scarves along with rhinestone Christmas broaches on their lapels, the four women had a repertoire of 17 holiday songs.
Â “We love to sing harmonies,” said Brenda Bernhardsson. “And the Galen folks are very nice. They clap for us.”
There was music of a different kind down Liberty Street at the Robot Supply and Repair Store, a project of 826Michigan, a non-profit that promotes writing among youth. Volunteers and staff, dressed to varying degrees as robots and cyborgs, sang holiday tunes outside the storefront - robot-style.Â
“Who doesn’t like a good excuse to dress up like robots and sing atonal Christmas and Hanukkah carols, substituting the word robot for angels and dreidls?” said Amy Sumerton, project director and store manager.
The shop offered 20 percent off storewide, free chocolate from a fountain and the opportunity to purchase such gifts as an electric paper airplane launcher and a duck robot kit.
There were times when Ten Thousand Villages on Main Street was as crowded as a New York subway at quitting time. Cathy Carden was browsing the fair trade store with gifts from around the world, but her real reason for coming to Midnight Madness was chocolate.
Â “I get my stepmother the same gift every year: Seafoam chocolate from Kilwin’s (Chocolates),” she said.Â
Carden said she wants to support the local economy, while at the same time watching what she spends for the holidays. “I was born and raised in Ann Arbor and it’s only natural that I shop here.”
Finally, what would Midnight Madness be without Santa Claus?Â
The jolly old man ho-ho-ho’d his way around downtown, spreading goodwill and insisting that the only name he goes by this time of year is Santa Claus.
He’s been filling the Big Man’s shoes since 1988 and he takes the role seriously.
Â “Really little children have somewhat of a fear of Santa and we don’t push them,” he said. “But when they get a little older, all they want to do is hug and be close to Santa.”