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.
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.
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.
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.”