Downtown shoppers and shopkeepers shared a festive mood Saturday with Christmas carols and sunny weather for Dickens on The Strand in downtown Galveston.
Six Beefeaters strolled down The Strand, where they encountered two bearded Bobbys. That scene and other Victorian-era costume play opportunities attracted crowds and participants. But that wasn’t the top draw.
“Dickens is more of a shopping event,” Trey Click, executive director of the Historic Galveston Downtown Partnership, said. “A lot of people are in the Christmas spirit for Christmas events. Retail in general is about consumer sentiment. And they are in the mood to shop.”
Ginger Herter, co-owner of Strand Bass and Christmas on The Strand, 2115 Strand, was counting on that sentiment Friday.
“We are fully stocked and fully staffed,” Herter said. “By far, it’s our best weekend of the year.”
Last year, however, was horrible for her and other downtown businesses because heavy rain kept shoppers away and the organizers canceled the festival. But the Galveston Historical Foundation, organizer of the event, scheduled a second weekend for the next week and honored tickets, which last year helped downtown merchants.
“I give complete praise to the Historical Foundation for coming back the second weekend,” Herter said. “We made up.”
Many of the niche shops and retailers specializing in gifts and unusual items benefit from shoppers dressed like characters from Charles Dickens’ books. The three-day event is one of downtown Galveston’s most lucrative.
“It is one that we look forward to all year,” said Amanda King, assistant manager at The Admiralty, 2221 Strand.
King was selling stainless steel wineglasses Saturday. Also, shoppers bought socks for all ages, a perennial favorite Christmas gift, she said.
Customers filled The Jewel Garden, 2326 Strand, on Saturday morning. Owner Darrel Yeatman was wearing a short-sleeve shirt while some customers wore vests and velvet gowns. Christmas carols played from the store’s speakers and shoppers looked at every tree ornament, necklace and stained glass panel on display.
“It’s usually one of our strongest weekends of the year,” Yeatman said. “We’ve got the music playing, but it’s a little warm.”
Despite the sunny weather, men in brocade vests and women with high-necked collars and long skirts promenaded from store to store. They met families of pirates, Puritans and Renaissance fair refugees. A chimney sweep stopped to take a photograph with a little boy in a velvet suit with a ruffled ascot.
Two suffragettes burst on the scene wearing bright yellow sashes.
“Votes for women,” one yelled in a Cockney accent. Other women responded by repeating her words.
A gang of boys wearing kilts and hanging out in an alley looked at first glance like a group in search of an Artful Dodger, a character in the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist.”
They turned out to be the Scottish Pipe Band from St. Thomas’ Episcopal School in Houston. They attended Dickens on The Strand to play the bagpipes and drums, their instructor, Graham Brown, said.
“We come to Dickens every year,” Brown said.
Research from the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau shows that visitors spent $897,527 on hotel rooms for Dickens in 2016, despite the rain, spokeswoman Mary Beth Bassett said. In 2015, the figure was more than $1 million.
“Dickens on The Strand is an important holiday tradition for our visitors and residents alike,” Bassett said. “The Galveston Historical Foundation has done a great job expanding the festival over the years. And, it comes at a great time of the year, during the off-peak season, to serve as an economic boost to our downtown merchants.”
The festival benefits Galveston in many ways, island Realtor Tom Schwenk said.
“It brings a lot of people in,” Schwenk said. “Hopefully, they come back.”
Schwenk has real estate brochures ready for visitors to take home and dream about Galveston for later.
“Getting more people to the island is great,” he said. “You have 30,000 people come, and they can walk by your shops.”