Festival ups value of Magnificent Mile's already rich retail scene
CHICAGO – Chicago's Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival is not just for dogs, though on opening weekend you might have thought that was the case.
The second annual shopping event – the only one of its kind in the U.S. so far – kicked off on Friday and in addition to a fashion show, there were some pet-friendly events on tap, too.
The festival continues through Sept. 6 all up and down North Michigan Avenue and is sure to draw Milwaukee shopaholics down to experience the varied events. A full schedule is here.
Last year's kickoff event was such a success, says Magnificent Mile spokeswoman Katie Fanella, that the organization decided to bring it back.
"In our first year, we had more than 140 participants, including shops, restaurants, hotels and attractions in the district, sign up to participate. During the two-week period, we saw a 9-percent lift in pedestrian traffic around the district while other areas around Chicagoland softened," Fanella said. "With the support of Choose Chicago, our city tourism partner, there were also 114 packages booked from China specifically for the Shopping Festival."
Susan Ellefson said the festival draws business into The Peninsula Hotel, where she serves as director of public relations, during the event, but more than that it has the long-term effect of boosting Chicago tourism. And that helps the five-star Peninsula.
"The festival brings media attention to Chicago locally, regionally, nationally and internationally," Ellefson said. "All of this helps give potential visitors a reason to come to the city and when they are looking for a great place to stay with an ideal location, The Peninsula Chicago is frequently the favorite choice. We are child-friendly and offer great options for couples and girlfriend getaways."
Though The Peninsula isn't hosting any festival events this year, its chefs are participating in cooking demos and a charity fundraising event, and the hotel is offering packages, said Ellefson.
On the first weekend of the festival, Michigan Avenue and its countless shops were as crowded as I've seen it in about 30 years of visiting. Waves of shoppers strolled the flower-laden sidewalks all day and evening and it seemed every restaurant had customers spilling out its doors. Even on a rainy Sunday morning, folks were lined up outside, awaiting the opening of the Water Tower Place shopping mall and retailers like American Girl Place.
"It's a great time of year to have a shopping festival," said Ellefson. "It's 'back to school' shopping time; hotels and restaurants generally have availability; retailers have special promotions this time of year. August is a good time for family vacations and Chicago presents itself as an ideal vacation destination with the addition of the shopping festival. The city looks great with flowers in full bloom and lush greenery throughout downtown."
Because of the dog-themed events, pooches were everywhere, too.
"We were very pleased with the kick-off weekend festivities around The Magnificent Mile district," said Fanella.
"On Friday, our special celebrity guest Kelly Osbourne kicked off a Fall Trends Fashion Show right along North Michigan Avenue featuring the hottest fall looks from The Magnificent Mile's retail centers, 900 North Michigan Shops, The Shops at North Bridge and Water Tower Place. The rest of the weekend was then populated by pet-friendly activities throughout the district. Argent Restaurant & Raw Bar's doggie brunch was well-attended by both locals and visitors throughout its five-hour period. We also experienced a great turnout for the complimentary pet photo sessions in the MasterCard Priceless Chicago Lounge."
The pet-focused fun was new this year; an attempt to broaden the target audience for the Shopping Festival said Fanella, who added that the second annual event is now aimed as much at foodies as it is as shoppers.
"This year we've added an outdoor culinary event right along North Michigan Avenue – the first of its kind – that features the district's top restaurants and a special appearance by 'Top Chef' Season 9 Winner Paul Qui. It's the ideal way for us to showcase our outstanding dining offerings."
The goal, said Fanella, is to create an enhanced experience for shoppers on Michigan Avenue, which is already something a shopping experience on steroids. It could be argued visiting the Magnificent Mile on any given day is like going to a shopping festival.
"Guests will always have Michigan Avenue to shop," she said. "That's why, throughout the festival, we're focused on creating these one-of-a-kind experiences to go along with their shopping trips. ... Shops, restaurants, hotels and attractions come together to entertain in a way that is truly unique to this event.
"Shoppers are treated to exclusive perks and in-store events, invited to attend one-of-a-kind foodie events, welcomed to the city with shopping-themed hotel packages and offered the chance to explore the district with special offers from area attractions. By combining all of these elements into one incredible experience throughout the two weeks, we hope to provide guests with a trip to The Magnificent Mile they won't forget."
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