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Miracle on Main Street Brings out the Crowds

Dec 16, 2005 — Friday's Miracle on Main Street may not have been the miracle store owners were looking for his holiday season.
Stores normally closed by 5 p.m. in downtown Charlotte Amalie welcomed shoppers, but this year's crowds did not quite meet last year's, according to some store owners.
Still, it was impossible to walk around downtown without hearing Caribbean-versions of familiar Christmas tunes played on steel pans. The Rising Stars Youth Steel Pan Orchestra, St. Thomas All Stars Steel Orchestra, the Family Life Center Steel Pan group and many others set up on Main Street west of Emancipation Garden. Emancipation Garden itself was filled with booths selling local food from johnny cakes to mini pies. The area also offered plenty more shopping opportunities.
Jolly men in Santa Claus suits roamed the streets of downtown, hugging children who excitedly ran up to them.
Holiday lights were everywhere. They criss-crossed between buildings overhead. Some shoppers walked around with blinking lights in their hair or glowing green bracelets on their wrists. A small number of boats paraded through the harbor; some with single lights atop their masts resembling low-lying stars, and others fully decked out with green, red and white lights.
The Humane Society set up a booth on Main Street selling presents for pets and their owners. A few small dogs up for adoption, dressed in holiday outfits, offered a free gift: puppy kisses.
The only thing missing from downtown was the cars: Police cordoned off the streets in the early afternoon, allowing shoppers space to wander and bands more room to play.
Event sponsors St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce and the Destination Downtown Committee, planned the night for months. Joe Aubain, St. Thomas -St. John Chamber of Commerce executive director, expected thousands of people, he said earlier this week. Last year more than 15,000 people attended the event, according to the V. I. Police Department.
But whether the stores truly benefited from the crowds downtown may not be really assessed until Saturday morning.
Holiday shopping has lagged on the mainland, according to U.S. media reports. The shopping season has been called anything from "sluggish" to "lukewarm." On St. Thomas, some stores owners reported that sales since Thanksgiving have not come close to reaching previous year's levels.
In fact, the holiday shopping season for some store owners so far has been "horrible," said Chrissy Rhodes, manager of the Purple Papaya on Main Street. Last year, she said, the event didn't necessarily help sales much. The daytime crowd this year was much smaller than past years, she said.
"Compared to last year, it's been quiet," Rhodes said.
But as the night wore on the crowd on Main Street grew significantly. People greeted each other with warm hugs and holiday wishes, cutting through crowds gathered around steel pan concerts to see friends. Traffic heading into town from the north and east far surpassed traffic leaving the area.
"We are keeping our fingers crossed to do something this year," said Prakash Khemani, who owns Carnival 21 Gifts and Clothing.
This year Khemani’s November sales were 20 to 30 percent lower than last year's sales for the same time period. But he said he was keeping his hopes up.
"The locals should be coming after 7, after they go home and get their kids," he said.
The holiday season was "starting out slow," for Harry Sakhrani, owner of Nita's Jewelry.
"I think electronics might be the thing this year," Sakhrani said, noting that Radio Shack was crowded earlier this week when he stopped by the store.
But Christmas and miracles go together, and Sakhrani wasn't giving up hope for this year's shopping season yet.

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