GRAYSLAKE – Snow covers the ground in a thick, white cotton blanket. It dusts tall pine trees and accents the lights already twinkling from the eaves of houses. A small group of people brave the mirror-like pond, some gliding across it with grace, others less so.
The Dickensian scene that unfolds in the window display of Grayslake’s This Old Book is an ode to ghosts of winters past. The scene appears every year at the used bookstore, a much-loved staple along downtown’s Center Street, since it opened in 2002.
This year, however, it is not the only store with holiday window displays.
The newly formed Grayslake Downtown Small Business Group has launched its inaugural window-decorating contest, encouraging visitors to cast votes either in person at participating stores’ ballot boxes, at the Grayslake Heritage Center, or via the “Holiday Window Competition Downtown Grayslake” Facebook page. Sixteen stores are participating.
“The downtown has such a new, lively group that’s opened new places, and I’ve seen this huge difference in the way we work with one another,” said Janet Elliott, This Old Book owner and Grayslake Downtown Small Business Group member. “It’s a lot more of a community than it used to be.”
Families exclaimed over the decorations, some pausing to duck into participating stores to enjoy complimentary cookies or hot cocoa during festivities Nov. 23. The feedback on the competition’s Facebook page has been nothing but positive.
“They all look so great,” Susan Wesenberg Young commented. “How will I ever pick one?!?!”
Jan Paha wrote, “Love them all, but I already know who I will online vote for.”
The competition’s post featuring photos of all participating stores’ window displays has been shared more than 70 times since Nov. 23.
Elliott said the feedback and level of participation by these small businesses has been a refreshing change.
“I’ve dealt with the old-timers for a long time,” she said, “and it’s just nice – all of the new businesses that are just really wanting to work with one another.”
Voting will remain open for the window displays until noon Dec. 12. The winner will receive a plaque to display in their window and bragging rights as the first winner.
The competition’s launch coincided with Grayslake’s annual tree-lighting festivities, and families filed in and out of the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum, which this year celebrated the return of its Giving Trees – Christmas trees decorated by local nonprofit organizations.
Record-breaking rainfall last summer caused major flooding in the center’s basement and temporarily decommissioned its elevator, forcing the center to trade in the Giving Trees for Giving Wreaths, which graced its first-floor windows.
Although fewer organizations participated this year, museum president Charlotte Renahan is pleased to bring the tradition back for the public and said, to her eye, participating organizations have stepped up their decorating game.
“I think the quality might have gone up on some of them,” she said in between greeting guests as they entered the center. “The creativity is [wonderful].”
Seven organizations participated in the Giving Trees this year: the Grayslake Greenery Garden Club, the Exchange Club of Grayslake, Mother’s Trust Foundation, the Grayslake Arts Alliance, St. Gilbert’s Catholic School, the Village of Grayslake Pageant and Foundation 46.
Visitors could purchase a ticket for $1 and cast their vote for their favorite tree. The museum will split the voting proceeds with the winning organization.
Mother’s Trust Foundation decorated its tree with notes of gratitude from people whose lives they’ve impacted.
“Thank you for your generous donation so that my son Joaquin could enjoy eight weeks just being a child,” one note read. “He does not get invited to friends due to his autism. At Camp Chi he was able to have sleepovers and make friends. We are in touch with them still.”
Another read, “Thank you. The bus pass was really helpful to me. Since having it, I was able to get to and from appointments, go to the library to get books for my kids, overall become more mobile. For a mother of three just struggling, this was something that made my month a little easier.”