The signs that line School Street call downtown Lodi "the place to be." Friday evening, it was just that for more than 500 participants of Lodi's first School Street Stroll.
Downtown merchants were paired with local wineries to present an evening of shopping and wine tasting. Their stores were open for business as usual, although they were offering appetizers and raffle prizes to entice shoppers to take a look and shop as they sipped.
Phil Biddle, owner of Vine and Branches, a Christian bookstore, opted for nonalcoholic drinks over wine.
"I still wanted to support the city and be a part of this," said Biddle, who was one of the first downtown merchants to remodel his business.
As participants made their way up and down School Street, Lodi Chamber of Commerce President Pat Patrick made his own rounds, stopping to shake hands and chat enthusiastically as he passed groups of people.
The event was conceived by chamber members, who wanted their regular monthly mixers to be bigger to attract more businesses, Patrick said.
"This type of event is really geared toward chamber members to give them a good networking opportunity," Patrick said. "We knew we needed something to attract more people to the downtown area and this type of event has all the right ingredients."
Apparently the idea of pairing downtown merchants and wineries was the right combination as the 538 tickets sold out ahead of time. With the pre-purchased ticket, School Street strollers were given an ID badge, a commemorative wine glass and a map of participating businesses, which allowed them to sample the wines presented.
The event also served as a bit of free advertising for the local merchants.
At the Downtown Market and Deli on School Street, George Bandy and his family was busy keeping the appetizer trays full of their homemade Middle Eastern foods such as tabouli and hummus. Paired with Benson-Ferry winery, which brought its Zinfandel and Chardonnay wines for sampling, the deli was humming with crowds of hungry people.
"It's nice to be a part of this," Bandy said.
His daughter, Viviana, agreed.
"This is good for us," she said. "New people are coming in everyday, especially today."
Sitting across from George Bandy, chamber member Monte Dayton, originally from San Mateo, said the chamber "did a great job putting this on."
"It cannot help but be good for all the businesses."
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