Silver Bells in the City What it means for businesses, economy & community

For many local Lansing businesses, the holiday scene is the most wonderful and the busiest time of the year. The official swing into the season begins with Downtown Lansing’s Silver Bells in the City.

The event has become a family tradition for some thousands of local residents and Michiganders from all across the state who venture to Lansing’s Capital City to witness the state’s tree lit up in all its glory.

Silver Bells includes 130 downtown buildings lit up with more than 15,000 feet of wiring and 85,000 lamps on rooftops along the city skyline. 52 lit wreaths are hung with care, 200 banners delightfully grace lamp posts, topped with 200 red bows and 3,320 feet of fresh cedar garland. It’s an event that continues to light up streets; while stirring up support for local businesses as well.

Tracy Padot, vice president of marketing and communications at the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau spoke about the impact the annual event has on the area.

“Greater Lansing welcomes over 4.8 million visitors annually, that generates $602 million dollars in economic impact,” Padot said. “Silver Bells certainly contributes to our local economy. The iconic event draws tens of thousands of visitors to the area each year, with many of them supporting downtown businesses.”

Although 4.8 million visitors is impressive, perhaps what’s more noteworthy is that a single one-day event can bring in such a large crowd. That event is a celebration and the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season – Silver Bells in the City.

“Over the years, Silver Bells in the City has drawn anywhere from 80,000 to 150,000 people to the Capital City,” said Mindy Biladeau, executive director at Downtown Lansing Inc. “Plus, over 25,000 households tuning in at home to watch the festivities live on FOX 47 and WKAR.”

Aside from the joy it brings to the community, it also brings quite a bit of money and customers to the area. The annual event features a host of activities spread across participating businesses and locations including the electric light parade, the Silver Bells Village holiday shopping market and other various smaller events.

The Silver Bells Village helps support local and Michigan-made products, offering shoppers locally made goods for loved ones. The Central Business District within downtown Lansing contains over 1,000 businesses in a 64-block area, many of which participate and hold local events, sales and special hours to accommodate for Silver Bells shoppers.

The Peanut Shop has been a staple in downtown Lansing’s since 1937 at its location on Washington Square. During the Silver Bells event, the shop’s sales skyrocket, according to Mindy Biladeau.

“Downtown Lansing’s Peanut Shop sells a half-ton of assorted nuts and pops more than 50 lbs. of popcorn during the four hours of Silver Bells,” she said.

Other local businesses like the Lansing Art Gallery, Biggby Coffee, Kewpee’s Sandwich Shoppe, and the Lansing City Market offer one-night-only specials or activities during the event.

“The benefits to regional hotels, local shops and restaurants are significant,” Biladeau said. “For some local businesses, it is the busiest four hours of the year. It’s a good way to start off the holiday season.”

Whether festival attendees just make a quick stop into a business for a cup of hot chocolate, or stay a while and browse the store; all the shops appreciate the extra foot traffic during the four-hour block.

The event began with humble beginnings and has grown to become the largest of its kind in the greater Lansing area. Created in 1984, Silver Bells in the City began as an idea by the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. It began with 2,500 luminaries framing Washington Square Mall and a singalong with the Mayor.

In 1995, the Santa Parade was added, as well as ice sculptures, carriage rides and businesses staying open. In 1997, the first Silver Bells Electric Light Parade trotted down the main streets, and in 2001, fireworks were added.

Although many of the portions of Silver Bells are free, the benefits the area experiences are vital to the local economy and community.

“Silver Bells in the City continues to be a gathering of community from across the state, that brings people together,” Biladeau said. “It continues to span new generations, where installing a sense of community pride allows it to remains an event of high quality.”

Major sponsors including the Lansing Board of water and Light, the City of Lansing, IBEW Local 665 and the National Electrical Contractors Association, Granger, Lake Trust Credit Union, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and an additional 70 supporting sponsors and partners enable the annual event to continue its tradition.

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn received her degree in Journalism from Lansing Community College. She’s a concert junkie; living and breathing in both the local and national music scene. She is proud to call Lansing her home, finding a new reason every day to be smitten with the mitten.

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