Christmas lights were strung through the trees. Winter displays were set in most storefront windows. Horses pulling carriages clomped through downtown.
This all can mean only one thing: The Candlelight Tour has returned.
With families and friends bundled in winter garb, hundreds enjoyed the first night of the tour Thursday.
Lizz Taylor, owner of Poor Richard’s Books, remembers the view of Broadway years ago during the first Candlelight Tour.
Six shops wanted to highlight their promotions for the Christmas shopping season and show what had been done to rehabilitate the buildings, Taylor says, remembering the origins of the Candlelight Tour, sponsored this year by Frankfort Plant Board.
The shop owners requested the carriage rides, set out the luminaries and asked the churches if each wanted to be involved, she says
“And it has ended up being an event Frankfort loves,” Taylor said.
The downtown scene has changed as the years go by. When the bookstore opened nearly 34 years ago, Taylor said there were only a couple of shops nearby.
“It was a nearly abandoned block,” Taylor says.
However, over the years downtown Frankfort bloomed.
“We have had significant and steady improvement, and I’m very proud of where we came from and what is looming in the future,” Taylor said.
She says the new Franklin County Judicial Center under construction will draw bigger crowds and simultaneously boost the downtown economy.
“We will see an even higher demand for different kinds of businesses,” Taylor said.
The Candlelight Tour began as a single-night event 30 years ago. It’s grown into a weekend experience.
Taylor says the bookstore gets a bit crowded, but “that’s what makes it fun,” the crowd and familiar faces.
“People as children came and now they are starting to bring their own children,” Taylor said.
“It’s like a hometown reunion, no matter which block you are on you are bound to run into someone you haven’t seen for a while.”
She recommends the carriage rides.
“When you’re in the carriage it feels like it could be just like Frankfort in 1900 with the period lighting,” Taylor said.
“Even if it’s raining and everyone has their umbrellas, it’s beautiful; it looks like a Paul Sawyier painting.”
Glenna Hockensmith, of Frankfort, along with her children Kaylee, 6, and Koleman, 4, stepped out of their carriage after taking an annual ride.
“It’s the first thing we do every year,” Hockensmith said about the Whitaker Bank-sponsored rides.
She said they have gone to the tour for at least four years.
Bundled in their winter coats, the trio decided to head toward the Kentucky Historical Society museum.
“They always have something fun for the kids,” Hockensmith said.
Though the event marks the beginning of the winter season for many, one of the main goals of the Candlelight Tour is to remind people to spend their time and money with downtown merchants.
And coinciding with a statewide campaign to “shop Main Street,” the Kentucky Heritage Council and Downtown Frankfort, Inc. revealed a logo that will be used throughout the holiday season in the downtown shops.
Marti Booth, of Frankfort, designed the logo for Frankfort’s businesses with a colorful design highlighting the downtown buildings in a snow globe for the winter season.
“I was told exactly how they wanted it, so I was able to put it together in two days,” Booth said.
The logo will be used on paper shopping bags and signs throughout downtown.
In the vacant buildings along St. Clair Street, vendors set up shop selling some of their goods – including Mary Kay and Pampered Chef products and homemade soaps.
Debra Boggs, of Frankfort, sold her handmade Christmas ornaments, which she produces “as a stress relief.”
“I started making them for just my friends and co-workers and it just took off from there,” Boggs said.
She had about 100 painted ornament bulbs with local high school names and colors, University of Kentucky letters, animal prints and fun sayings.
Though some brought their own art, others created art – and messes – during the tour.
Audrey Hammond, one of the owners at Broadway Clay, said patrons were allowed to throw clay, to create bowls or mugs, for free for the evening.
“Every kid that walks in the door wants to get their hands in the dirty clay,” Hammond said.
And Alex Aossey, 8, was no different.
While the shop was offering to fire the creations for $5, the third-grader at Second Street School didn’t make a permanent creation this time around, though he has in the past.
Alex’s family went to the Church of the Ascension and took a carriage ride from there.
“I got to ride on top,” he said, describing how he rode along with the driver where he saw many of his friends on the sidewalks.
“But I sneezed a lot.”
With clay on his upper lip and covering his pants, his family left the shop to move on to other stores. Although Alex wasn’t sure what was his favorite part of the night, he was certain why he was enjoying the event.
“It’s to celebrate the beginning of the winter season,” he said with a large grin.
The Candlelight Tour will continue today with the Old Capitol Tree Lighting at 5 p.m. Carriage rides will begin at 6 p.m. with most businesses beginning activities between 5-6 p.m.