Red Invitation sale thrives in Winnetka, Northfield
(From left) The Season Greetings Singers for All Seasons Marlene Flood, Eric Wallbruch, Jeanie Pitchfor and Cole Seaton sing a carol in The Book Stall before a holiday reading prior to the lighting of the village Christmas Tree in Winnetka Friday, Nov. 30
Updated: December 12, 2012 4:22PM
WINNETKA — While big box stores were seeing black the day after Thanksgiving, the local small businesses of Winnetka and Northfield were seeing red this past weekend.
Invitations were sent out all over the north shore welcoming consumers to attend the 35th annual Red Invitation holiday shopping sale Dec. 2.
What began as the creation of a local businessman to promote and help local shops has continued decades later. This year’s event includes more than 40 businesses from Winnetka and Northfield.
“Tom Fritts who owns T.L. Fritts Sporting Goods invented it,” said Winnetka-Northfield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terry Dason. “He started asking a few of his business neighbors if they would be interested in doing a promotional sale the first Sunday in December. It just kept growing and growing.”
Fritts would go door to door to ask his fellow business owners what types of discounts they would offer and he would write them on a red piece of paper. This red invitation was sent to all residents in Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Northfield and Glencoe to try to persuade residents to shop local during the holidays.
Putting together the mailings each year became quite a challenge and 10 years ago Fritts handed off Red Invitation duties to the chamber of commerce.
Sandy Freeman, the owner of Creme de la Creme at 903 Green Bay Road, has participated in the sale for 12 years and says everyone on the north shore knows the first Sunday in December is a day to look forward to.
“It brings a lot of people to Winnetka,” Freeman said. “We usually have to have four or five sales associates working because it gets so busy. This really is the start of the holiday season for local merchants.”
The holiday shopping weekend kicked off Friday night with storyteller Robert McDonald reading holiday classics at The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., and continued with the village’s tree lighting ceremony down the street at Station Park.
Book Stall owner Roberta Rubin believes shoppers are ready to begin spending again at shops like hers after years of financial hardship. She hopes that means good things for small business owners in the community.
“I don’t know if people are spending quite as much as they were,” Rubin said. “There were more sales, but I don’t think they sold as many big ticket items. There’s an eagerness (among shoppers), the weather’s cooperated and people love books. We’re in the right place.”
This year the familiar red invitations were sent through email and passed along by business owners, friends and contacts inviting shoppers from far and wide to take part.
“They don’t have the buying power of the big stores and this helps our community,” Dason said of the tradition. “We want to focus the event on our retailers and how great they are.”