Marzena Whitmore (elf) and Dale Hudson (Santa), pose for a photo with Benny Orvin (partially obscured), 6, and his siblings Lilly, 4, and Remi, 2, taken by their mother Alex as their father Randy watches during Gallery Walk in downtown Juneau on Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Marzena Whitmore (elf) and Dale Hudson (Santa), pose for a photo with Benny Orvin (partially obscured), 6, and his siblings Lilly, 4, and Remi, 2, taken by their mother Alex as their father Randy watches during Gallery Walk in downtown Juneau on Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Coming together as one giant community family at Gallery Walk

Thousands share an evening of entertainment in the outdoor chill, visiting shops and hot chocolate.

Marzena Whitmore says she’s a co-worker of Santa at his other job (which sounds like a separate story of its own for Enquiring Minds), so when he needed new elves this holiday season she proved to have the suitably jolly qualifications.

“Spreading Christmas cheer and helping Santa,” she said after appearing with him in one of the many photos taken with some of the children, families and thousands of others participating in this year’s Gallery Walk on Friday.

Santa — a.k.a. Dale Hudson, who’s been appearing at Gallery Walk for the past 15 years — apparently isn’t exempted from Juneau’s ongoing workforce shortage. He said “I told everybody I needed elves” to accompany him along the streets of downtown Juneau, amongst a variety of performers and vendors outdoors in the chilly — but dry — weather.

A giant inflatable snowman greets shoppers in front of a row of vendors selling crafts at Sealaska Heritage Plaza during Gallery Walk on Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A giant inflatable snowman greets shoppers in front of a row of vendors selling crafts at Sealaska Heritage Plaza during Gallery Walk on Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Around them was a constant flow of people who also were ducking into the multitude of shops featuring their wares, food and drinks, and often their own music or other entertainment.

Whitmore said she’s a lifelong resident of Juneau, but this is just her second Gallery Walk after finally coming to her first two years. But it made a big impression, which is why she was more involved this year and hopes to continue doing so in the future.

“I think it was probably how many people are here and how the community comes together in a way,” she said.

Still, after the first hour outside she was pretty definitive about what she would be seeking most among all the options if Santa did give her a break to explore.

“Hot chocolate,” Whitmore said.

The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé drill team performs a routine on Front Street during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé drill team performs a routine on Front Street during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

That was also a popular choice for members of the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé drill team, which performed a 30-minute routine on the closed-to-vehicles Front Street. They were dressed for drill, not chill, although Shaelynn Lee, 17, said this is her third year doing the outdoor performance and she’s experienced tougher early December conditions.

“I think it’s warmer than it was the first year, so it was nicer,” she said.

There were also COVID-19 restrictions in place that year following the cancellation of the 2020 Gallery Walk at the outset of the pandemic. But since last year the events, organized by the Downtown Business Association and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, have returned largely to normal.

However, a colorful indicator of further recovery from that period was the grand opening of the Drip Drop Wonder Shop on Front Street — coming after many businesses shut down during the pandemic.

Stephanie Tripp (left) an employee at two downtown gift shops, takes a quick break to make a purchase at the newly opened Drip Drop Wonder Shop operated by artist Natalie Weinberg during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Stephanie Tripp (left) an employee at two downtown gift shops, takes a quick break to make a purchase at the newly opened Drip Drop Wonder Shop operated by artist Natalie Weinberg during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Owner Natalie Weinberg said she chose to open in December, rather than at the beginning of the peak tourism season next spring, because the location and opportunity were there.

“I saw that it was for rent and it was an amazing location,” she said. “I’m hoping that I can generate enough excitement with events and hosting other artists — do a lot of pop-ups for other artists — and that I would be able to make it until the summer. I could wait until the summer, but would the space be available? So for me it was more of an opportunity, and things ebb and flow just like my creative process — I make more art in the winter anyway.”

One of her first customers was Stephanie Tripp — who in a sense is a “competitor” who typically spends each year’s Gallery Walk, including this year’s — working nearby at the adjacent Mt. Juneau Trading Post and Chilkat River Trading shops. This year the shops were featuring customized artistic instruments by Juneau guitar maker George Gress, but Tripp said she felt the impulse to drop by the new art shop for a look while her sister covered for her back at the other stores.

“It’s brand new and I haven’t been in yet,” she said. “I’m excited and it’s really cute.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Audrey Burke, 10, offers cookies to people visiting shops at the Senate Building during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Audrey Burke, 10, offers cookies to people visiting shops at the Senate Building during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Yées Ku.oo Dance Group performs in the Walter Soboleff Building during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Yées Ku.oo Dance Group performs in the Walter Soboleff Building during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Families check out the festive Children’s Discovery Area at the Alaska State Museum during Gallery Walk on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Families check out the festive Children’s Discovery Area at the Alaska State Museum during Gallery Walk on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Holiday Trolley stops at the Alaska State Capitol, a new location on its circuit this year for activities inside the building and the adjacent Juneau-Douglas City Museum, during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Holiday Trolley stops at the Alaska State Capitol, a new location on its circuit this year for activities inside the building and the adjacent Juneau-Douglas City Museum, during Gallery Walk on Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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