hocolate walk brings folks to Millersburg shopping district

hocolate walk brings folks to Millersburg shopping district

Image Credit: Dave Mast

The annual Christmas Open House and Chocolate Walk took place Nov. 12-13 in Historic Downtown Millersburg, and a steady flow of participants ventured in and out of the many participating shops, which handed out various types of chocolate to participants.

More importantly, the event helped generate foot traffic in the shops, many of those visitors from outside the area and had not ventured to HDM before. Thus, this event served as an introduction to them and also served as an invitation to schedule a return trip down the road.

Events like the chocolate walk have helped generate excitement around town and have helped spawn growth to make HDM a destination for many visitors to Amish Country.

Sue Szpila, owner of The Jewelry Store, has been calling Millersburg home for more than four decades, and she has experienced the ups and downs of life in the county seat. She has seen a time when many store fronts were available, and now she is reveling in the new life that has been breathed into the town over the past several years.

“I’ve been here for so long. It is great to see so many new and exciting stores open up in the downtown area,” Szpila said. “The more we have to offer, the more it brings people into town.”

Szpila said what is enticing about Millersburg is the stores offer an array of quality wares, from antiques to toys and more. She said while people might stop in, collect their chocolate and just browse, even if they don’t buy something, it gives visitors an idea as to everything that is available in town, and the payoff might come this Christmas or next summer.

“They browse and get an idea of something they like, and they might not buy something now, but I think we have such a wonderful downtown area that people will want to come back when they have more time,” Szpila said. “It’s exciting to see downtown Millersburg become a destination for people.”

Tim Schlaegel, owner of Antique Emporium, said the chocolate walk was fun for participants, but more importantly, these types of weekend events bring people into town who might not have experienced Historic Downtown Millersburg’s many shops and stops.

“We had a lot of people from other states stop in at the store,” Schlaegel said. “We’re excited about the direction the downtown area continues to go. I think we along with all of the other shop owners offer a lot, and when you do that, people are going to visit and go back and tell others. Almost every day I hear people saying, ‘We never knew this was here.’ Millersburg has a unique feel to the experience we offer.”

Gary and Donna Sands of Fredericksburg had not participated in the chocolate walk before and enjoyed a number of stores in which they had not been in before. They decided to make a day of it, touring town before eventually heading to Sunny Slope to end their day date.

Judy Lamp, executive director of Historic Downtown Millersburg, sat in the greeting area at Hotel Millersburg with a crew from Babb’s Family Practice as they greeted chocolate walkers and set them on their path around town.

She said events like this are always a lot of work, but they also are important to building community relationships among the shop owners and are perfect for inviting people to explore everything the downtown area has to offer.

“We continue to add new businesses, and we are still growing,” Lamp said of HDM. “We used to have buildings sitting empty for what seemed like forever. Now new buildings open up, and they roll over immediately. People want to be here because they see the growth, and that is exciting.”

Lamp said when HDM changed its theme to provide more of an antique style of shops along with adding some nightlife opportunities for visitors to Holmes County, the growth made a huge jump. She said while events like the chocolate walk are designed to bring people into town for a weekend, the end goal is to create continuing growth that will keep the downtown area flourishing every day of the week, all year round.

“Our shop owners are starting to understand that concept, and that is why we are seeing exciting, fresh businesses into Millersburg,” Lamp said. “These types of events are about getting people across the threshold to experience Millersburg, and chocolate certainly can get people across the threshold. Getting people here to experience HDM for the first time is exciting because it opens their eyes to everything we offer.”

Families can look forward to the upcoming Children’s Night in HDM on Friday, Dec. 10 from 6-8 p.m., where Santa Claus will pay a visit to the courthouse lawn and plenty of gifts and activities for the kids will be provided.