Illuminating downtown Schenectady

Mannequins featuring two different looks perpetually spin in the window display at The Silver Shop Jewelry Boutique on Jay Street. 

Mannequins featuring two different looks perpetually spin in the window display at The Silver Shop Jewelry Boutique on Jay Street. 

Downtown Schenectady is lit up with holiday spirit once again as IlluminoCity, an annual holiday decoration competition between the city’s businesses, returns.

Presented by the City of Schenectady and the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, IlluminoCity aims to promote local businesses and not-for-profit organizations through collaboration, community and holiday cheer.

“The overarching theme of IlluminoCity is to bring light and warmth to the city, and to bring light to all those wonderful not-for-profits that support this community in so many ways,” said Heather Peterson, one of the organizers of IlluminoCity and the president of the DSIC’s board of directors.

Twenty-six Schenectady businesses are participating in this year’s contest. Each business, which has also partnered with a local not-for-profit organization, has decorated its property with lights, trees, and even music to correspond with one of the four contest categories. This year’s categories include traditional, most original, Schenectady pride, and “Dream Big,” inspired by the Schenectady parade’s theme. 

Hosted by The Daily Gazette, a public People’s Choice Award is open for public voting until January 14, 2023. Additionally, a panel of judges will award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prize winners in each of the four categories. Winners of these awards will receive funding for their associated nonprofit.

“I’m hearing good stuff all around town,” Peterson said about the reception to this year’s decorations.

According to the IlluminoCity website, throughout the contest, not-for-profit organizations will receive recognition and funding support toward their mission and businesses will benefit from increased customer activity.

However, economic benefits aren’t the only reason that some businesses are excited to participate.

For Chelsea Heilmann, owner of Take Two Cafe, which is competing in this year’s “traditional” category and supporting the Center for Community Justice, IlluminoCity’s purpose of supporting Schenectady-centered businesses and organizations drew her to start participating last year.

“It’s directly correlated with businesses that are headquartered in downtown Schenectady so the money is going to something that is relevant and happening in the community,” said Heilmann.

Heilmann also notes that events like IlluminoCity highlight the solidarity of downtown Schenectady.

“I have always loved our downtown community,” said Heilmann. “It’s a very close, family business community and you can see that when there’s something like this. It’s not just one person that does it and it’s kind of overlooked — everybody gets involved, everyone does it. Everyone gets excited.”

And excited is a fitting word to describe the Law Office of Kathleen M. Toombs, who will be participating for the first time this year. The office is competing under the “most original” category with a veterans theme in support of the Capital Region Veterans Memorial’s “The Legacy Project.” For Toombs, the opportunity for this kind of partnership is one of the highlights of IlluminoCity.

“I think the partnership is great,” said Toombs, whose office is now decorated with Snoopy and the Red Baron, veteran memorabilia, and a large American flag. “I wanted to help build awareness of what the Legacy Project is intended to do.”

With all of the collaboration, community, and opportunity for charity, the Schenectady Trading Company, which is supporting the Schenectady Greenmarket, sees IlluminoCity as a “positive all-around.”

“It’s a way to make the store more noticeable and contribute to the holiday cheer in general, but then also have the benefit of potentially raising a sum of money for a nonprofit that we believe in and want to support,” said Caroline Bardwell, the founder of the Schenectady Trading Co. “It’s just yet another way to think positively about Schenectady when you see those things.”

The City of Schenectady and DSIC hope that IlluminoCity will encourage other Capital Region residents to visit downtown Schenectady to experience the enthusiasm and pride that, according to Mayor Gary McCarthy, is deeply rooted in the city.

“There’s just a lot of energy here,” said McCarthy. “People are proud of their individual roles here and [IlluminoCity] just gives them a chance to tell their story or blow their own horn to, hopefully, a wider audience. We have a lot of people who understand the transition that has happened in Schenectady, the opportunities that are here, but there are still people that we have to get here for the first time.”

People can vote for their favorite display at or on the QR codes of each window flyer. Voting will close on January 14, 2023.

Categories: Art, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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