Norfolkans can kick off the holiday season at the downtown Riverpoint district with the Hometown Holidays Festival on Tuesday, Nov. 23.

The event runs from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., with several downtown businesses and retailers remaining open to cater to guests. Since the events stretch from First Street to Seventh Street, Norfolk Avenue will be closed for safety.

Guests can interact with downtown businesses sharing hot drinks and sweet treats and listening to live music as they walk the avenue. At Riverpoint Square, children can meet Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and a few of their reindeer. Inside the Magnolias store, they can meet Elsa and Anna from the Disney movie "Frozen" and "make" faux-snow with "elf" helpers. After munching on s'mores from designated stations at Bank of the West, Norfolk Daily News, US Bank and Window World, guests may go for a ride on the hayrack or horse-drawn wagon.

The climax of the night comes in the Christmas tree lighting at 7:30 at the Salvation Army.

Amy Renter, president of the Downtown Norfolk Association, said this year's Hometown Holidays Festival is expected to draw 5,000 visitors. In the past she has heard visitors exclaiming how "authentic" the event feels and that it is a tradition whole families celebrate together.

"There's nothing like it anywhere else; it feels like an old-fashioned Christmas," she said, repeating what others have told her in the past.

Besides welcoming the winter season, attendees should feel "the sense of community we all provide to each other, our customers, our friends and neighbors," according to Erica Robertson, the marketing coordinator for the association.

The theme "Hometown Holidays" was specifically chosen, she said, because of the intense focus and support for small businesses in the past two years.

"What's more 'hometown' than enjoying an evening of friendship and community while preparing for the Christmas season than this festival?" Robertson said.

In other news

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NEW YORK (AP) — Retailers are expected to usher in the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season Friday with bigger crowds than last year in a closer step toward normalcy. But the fallout from the pandemic continues to weigh on businesses and shoppers' minds.