Crowds were sparse Friday at Temple Square, with scattered groups of families, out-of-towners, and even a couple on their honeymoon, gazing at the multicolored light display.
Blame the slim numbers on the weather, said Natalie Driggs, of Riverton, as she watched her five children play in the snow.
"It was really cold about an hour ago," explained Driggs, who said recent demolition of downtown's two malls with their traditional holiday window displays and enticing shopping spaces out of the cold didn't play into her decision to journey downtown.
This is the first year that the Christmas-time crowds in downtown Salt Lake have celebrated without the Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls longtime fixtures on the downtown landscape. The two malls are being torn down to make way for City Creek Center, a mixed-used development by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And while crowds were light Friday night, downtown business owners say they haven't seen lower sales or fewer people this year, despite the noise, inconvenience and traffic from construction. At Utah Woolen Mills, sales numbers from November were up about 10 percent over last November, said B.J. Stringham, who runs the clothing business with his family.
His store is on South Temple, just across from the light display on Temple Square, and on the fringe of the demolition zone for one of the city malls.
"You would think with as much construction and road closures and just general mayhem downtown, that business would also go down the tube," Stringham said. "But for us, business is just going up."
Bob Farrington, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, said Friday that instead of gathering near the former malls, people are congregating elsewhere downtown at places such as The Gateway, the area along 300 South (Broadway) and near arts and entertainment establishments.
"People are spending; they're just spending in different places," Farrington said, adding that many people have been shopping elsewhere for several years even before the malls were torn down.
At The Gateway, parking and traffic numbers from last weekend were up 16 percent over the same weekend last year, according to Heather Nash, director of marketing. Sales figures have also increased in double-digits over years prior, she said.
"Even with what's going on down the street, we still think downtown offers a lot to see that you can't see in your communities," Nash said.
Kelsey Wilcox and her husband, Cory, were visiting downtown and Temple Square on Friday from Idaho Falls. They said they brought their two daughters to help teach them about Christmas and Christ.
"She thinks it's beautiful," Wilcox said of her 2-year-old daughter Madeline's reaction to the lights.
She laughed when asked about the malls. She and her husband had talked about going shopping before seeing the lights, but the stores were gone. They had plans for dinner afterwards.
"I haven't been down (to Salt Lake City) for a few years," Cory Wilcox said.
Stephanie and Shylo Maestas, of Tooele, both thought the crowds were smaller on Friday than previous years, but both, like the Driggs family, blamed the weather."There will probably be more (crowds) tomorrow," Shylo Maestas, said.
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