'Hoodie Hoo' to make Valley debut Thursday
By Chris Buckley
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Against the dismal backdrop of a seemingly endless winter, a group of merchants, chamber and Charleroi borough leaders and the public will gather downtown and chant.
Sounds pretty logical, right?
If nearly five feet of snow isn't enough to make area residents crazy, Debbie Keefer has a crazy idea to bring Hoodie Hoo Day to Charleroi Thursday and make it an annual event.
And it's just crazy enough to let the public know that the downtown business district is alive and open for business, even if Mother Nature is trying to white out the landscape.
But then, three chants done while wearing crazy hats should be enough to chase away the never-ending winter, right?
Keefer, executive director of the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, first learned of Hoodie Hoo Day on a weather forecast. It is a trademarked holiday “Northern Hemisphere Hoodie Hoo Day,” created by wellcat.com, and apparently intended to be a marketing tool.
Although celebrated elsewhere nationally, Hoodie Hoo Day is making its Valley debut this week.
With Keefer leading the charge, participants will gather in Magic City Square at exactly noon Thursday. They will have a countdown before chanting “Hoodie Hoo” three times.
Participants are encouraged to wear crazy hats and bright colors. There will be music, dancing, and a concession stand.
Mayor John Mollenauer will read a proclamation and “gaudy” trophies will be awarded to best “Hoodie Hoo-ers,” Keefer said.
“Winter should begin to disappear immediately after the chant,” Keefer said with a laugh.
Keefer said merchants have been asked to join in the fun and to take advantage of the event by offering promotions that day.
“If they cannot come down to the Square, they are asked to do their own shout and to brighten up their storefront on Feb. 20,” Keefer said. “The chamber has organized a Chamber Hoodie Happy Hour for 5 p.m. at Rego's Restaurant.”
The ultimate idea is to get the consumers excited about coming downtown to shop in the dead of a miserable winter, Keefer acknowledged.
“This time of year is always a challenge for businesses, and this especially harsh winter has not made it any easier,” Keefer said. “There was always a lull in promotions, too, so Hoodie Hoo Day on Feb. 20 made perfect sense.”
In addition, the chamber is planning a Fat Tuesday business crawl for March 4. It is a way to get people to visit 25 businesses that include Charleroi's restaurants, salons and stores.
“There is a great group of business owners in Charleroi that have brought a new sense of energy to the shopping and eating district,” Keefer said. “Along with that, there is a fantastic relationship with the borough, which is an integral part of any downtown promotion.”
President Gary Boatman said the Greater Monessen Chamber of Commerce is “working with new city officials to improve our business district.”
“The last several years have seen retail ignored by the city,” Boatman said. “The spirit of cooperation in our city is the highest it has been for quite a while.
“We look forward to announcing new initiates this spring.”
Gina Lynn, executive director of the Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged the winter has played havoc with retailers.
“I personally feel so bad for our retail shop owners, especially the small business owners this winter,” Lynn said. “They have had to alter their opening hours or close completely. They are facing struggles with snow removal and salt expenses.”
The Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce director said she tries to incorporate fun into the things the GRC does.
“Someone once told me, ‘work hard, play hard' and I think we do that in the GRC,” Lynn said. “Work is stressful, owning a small business is stressful, I think by having these fun events, members look forward to letting loose and relaxing a bit with folks they know and trust. And that is good for relationship building.”
The GRC is constantly promoting local shopping.
For Valentine's Day, the chamber circulated a Share the Love promotion, which was a member-to-member discount. The chamber is working on a similar promotion for St. Patrick's Day.
Another such promotion, “Fun Fridays,” was created by accident.
It actually evolved from a visit one day to Broad Avenue Treasures. Lynn stopped in for a visit and cup of coffee. Shop owner Stefanie Senko McCulloch had recently finished her window display with a vintage chaise lounge, side table, and décor for Valentine's Day.
“I commented how fun it would be to sit in the window for a bit to warm up and Stefanie said, ‘Go ahead, stay as long as you'd like,'” Lynn said. ‘So of course I did, and I was waving to passing motorists and folks on the sidewalk. I was having so much fun seeing the startled faces when they realized I was alive and not a mannequin.
Senko McCulloch took a photograph, which Lynn posted on Facebook, with a clue about the location, and posed the question “Where's Gina?” – a takeoff on “Where's Waldo?”
It has become a weekly game called Fun Fridays.
“The goal is to keep reminding folks that the shop owners are our friends, neighbors, family members and main contributors to our community,” Lynn said.
“The big box retailers will survive. Yes, their profits may be down, too, during this first quarter, but they will pull out. It's the small businesses that are hit the hardest. It's hard to survive if the cash register only opens once during the day, for a $15 sale.”
Lynn said the shop owners know the importance of catering to their loyal customers, those who will visit during a snow storm or still come out in frigid weather.
“This time of the year, many of them will offer the customer a cup of coffee/hot chocolate – some even a glass of wine – upon entering the shop,” Lynn said. “That's a ‘warm feeling' that you'll get only from a small business owner.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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