The 8th annual Stroll on State will be expanded and spread out over a whole month to meet state-mandated safety measures, while fulfilling its mission to support local businesses, gather the community together, decorate downtown and honor traditions. Not even a pandemic can take the awe, joy and wonder out of Christmas, says John Groh, president and CEO of Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, event sponsor.
“Stroll is one of our community’s most beloved traditions,” says Groh. “Since the onset of the pandemic, it’s been our fervent hope that we would be able to hold Stroll on State as we’ve known it in prior years. However, that isn’t possible or responsible this year. So, while we’re not able to gather all together at the same time, we can still come together as a community to celebrate the holidays, support local businesses and look with wonder to the future and the possibilities it holds.”
Instead of packing tens of thousands of people together in Rockford’s downtown on one day, Stroll will begin on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28, with in-person and online activities, specials and promotions by local businesses, running through Dec. 24.
Highlights will include even bigger, brighter and more numerous downtown decorations; a new location at Davis Park for the official City of Rockford Christmas Tree and other decorations; a day of Merry & Bright Holiday television programming on Channel 13 WREX that will feature a live online tree lighting celebration followed by fireworks; a virtual version of the Fleet Feet Dasher Dash 5k Race; extended hours for SantaLand at City Hall and six locations to drop off letters to Santa.
Rockford Sharefest President Creig Day, one of the original organizers of Stroll on State, says volunteers met months ago to decide if Stroll on State could be produced this year in spite of the pandemic, and the answer was “absolutely yes.”
“If there was ever a year where we needed beauty, awe, wonder, joy, peace, goodwill and love, it is this year … Stroll is who we are as a community, so it must continue,” says Day.
Everyone is welcome to volunteer at the weekly decoration workshops from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at Santa’s Workshop at 310 Winnebago St. The decorations will go up Friday and Saturday Nov. 20-21. To sign up as a volunteer, go to gorockford.com/stroll-on-state/volunteering.
Visits to SantaLand can be made from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays, Nov. 28 to Dec. 19, at City Hall, 425 E. State St. Bring a gift list for Santa and have a picture taken with him, while being safe by wearing a face mask and socially distancing.
For those unable to visit Santa in person, Letters to Santa can be put in drop boxes at FurstStaffing, 2580 Charles St.; City Hall; near the city Christmas tree at Davis Park at Chestnut and Wyman streets; Janene’s Event Design Studio Social Café, 607 W. State St., Studio B; and Illinois Bank & Trust, 4571 Guilford Road and 308 W. State St. Get letters in by Dec. 7 to get a response from Santa.
Sponsors encourage people to stroll the downtown to see the decorations and lighted trees; to visit Santa; and to shop and dine at locally owned businesses to get the full experience of Stroll on State.
People are invited to light their own Christmas trees at home as the city tree is lighted for the first time at the end of the WREX-TV Merry & Bright show from 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 28, which also will feature holiday-themed stories and special guests. Fireworks will be displayed at five locations around the city (central, north, south, east, and west) and will not be announced ahead of time, in order to prevent large crowds from gathering.
Fleet Feet Owner Melissa Pratt says the traditional Dasher Dash 5k Race will be an “at home edition” this year, with the first 250 people registered receiving medals, a T-shirt and a race flag and cookie cutter (instead of cookies at the end of the race).
This year, 5k participants can use the free app RaceJoy and have the flexibility of completing the run/walk anytime between Nov. 28 and Dec. 24. Sign up at gorockford.com. For a fee, packets can be mailed to those who want to participate while out of town.
Pratt got involved with Stroll on State three years ago to showcase the city’s neighborhoods, people and volunteers. It takes about 100 volunteers each year to get ready for the race.
“I’m so excited to do this, even though it will be different this year,” she says. “It will be fun and you don’t have to get up early to walk or run this year. You can do it anytime.”
For more information and up-to-date developments, see gorockford.com and the Stroll on State Facebook page. ❚