Noel Night is "like Black Friday" for Midtown Detroit retailers
Christopher Prater and his wife TaNisha grew up in Detroit, moved to Atlanta for several years, then came back and opened a vintage-meets-consignment boutique in Midtown called Thrift on the Avenue.
Two years ago, even before Thrift on the Ave was really up and running, neighbors were telling him: you guys should do a soft opening on Noel Night, because there’ll be some 40,000 people out shopping.
Growing up, Prater says he’d never even heard of Noel Night. Plus, that winter was especially cold, snowy, and brutal. So Prater was skeptical.
But then, Noel Night proved him wrong.
“Oh. My. Gosh. So, that was just our soft opening, but it was our best night [in terms of sales] until the next spring,” he says.
Now, he and his co-owners think of it as another Black Friday.
“We get an additional holiday with Noel Night, and that is tremendous for us as retailers. And there’s a lot of energy around people wanting to come shop in Detroit. The crazy part about it is, I think the operating hours [for Noel Night] are until 10 pm, but we’ve never gotten out of here before midnight.”
For the uninitiated, Noel Night is a holiday bonanza.
Now in its 43rd year, it’s grown to such an extent that you cannot do everything.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is open free of charge (as are the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and other cultural centers) and gets an average 24,000 visitors that night.
Throughout the neighborhood, in storefronts and on stages, there are dozens of live performances, parties and concerts. There’s dancing, hot chocolate, horse-drawn carriages, and it all caps off in a sing-along.
And, of course, there’s the shopping.
When Busted Bra Shop was planning their own grand opening in Midtown two years ago, owner Lee Padgett already knew Noel Night was when she wanted to introduce her “old fashioned boutique” to the public.
“Years ago we had a café downtown, and Noel Night was always on our radar as just a fantastic celebration,” Padgett says. “So I thought, well, this would be the time to kind of launch it, since there’s going to be thousands of people walking through the lobby."
Since Busted Bra Shop specializes in personalized fittings that take about 15 minutes per person, Noel Night “is more of a marketing thing than a [sales] numbers thing…we can wave our hand and say, ‘look at us, we’re here, plan your shopping for the year with us!’ We can really show off the store.’”
Still, Padgett says they’re doing fittings and selling lingerie right up until closing at 10 pm.
“It’s amazing, the amount of people who come in and say, ‘Ok, I came in just for you.’ And we say, ok, let’s go!”
For many long-time residents, Noel Night is also a prime example of all the ways the neighborhood has evolved in recent years.
When Christopher Prater, the co-owner of Thrift on the Ave., moved back to Detroit, he told his now-wife there was “no way in the world I would open up a business on Cass [Ave.] But when I got down here, I quite literally thought I was out of town. And so I am in awe of the development that’s going around here.
“There’s been this talk of gentrification at every kitchen table, in this part of town in particularly. And you know, I’m like this: would we rather have no streetlights, corroded sidewalks and streets? Or would we rather have, bustling businesses and people walking out and the community is engaged?”
You can check out more about Noel Night here - though in terms of parking, the best bet really is just getting there as early as possible.