Maybe it wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but dark and unseasonably cold? Definitely.

Yet store lights twinkled all up and down Venice Avenue. Some propped open their doors or displayed an “OPEN” sign. Couples and families browsed and shopped, lingered and dined and ate ice cream and fudge. Some businesses treated patrons to food, beverages or live music.

It was Venice MainStreet’s Thursday Stroll. The event takes place on the third Thursday of every month, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Larry and Dee Bair and their son Von were window shopping on this recent Thursday evening. They read about the event on the community calendar and wanted to see what the town has and what businesses were open.

Kathy Crisman of Dick’s Shoes handles promotions for Venice MainStreet. “People often do more window shopping during the Thursday Strolls,” she explained. “They eat dinner and then walk around and see what’s here. Then they come back another day to really shop.”

Chris Wolf and Frank Magnapena ate at another Venice restaurant, then made a special trip to downtown to shop.

Another couple, on their way to the symphony, were pleasantly surprised to see the shops open. They didn’t know about the Thursday Stroll.

Sandy McGowan, owner of Sandy’s Designer Clothing, is president of the Venice MainStreet board of directors.

“It’s up to each business to decide whether to open for the evening or not, but most do stay open,” said McGowan.

When the economy was down and business was slow, some of the stores didn’t see the benefit in staying open. Now that business is picking up, and especially in season, more stores are opening their doors to the monthly event.

Kat Quast is the Director of Venice MainStreet and handles day-to-day operations. “The Thursday Stroll and other events are designed to get shop owners and residents to understand the beauty of Venice’s Downtown,” said Quast. “The streets are so pretty at night. People really have to come and see it to appreciate it.”

There’s just something about strolling along the sidewalk after a casual, relaxing dinner, with the smell of chocolate permeating the cooler night air. On warmer nights, ice cream from Venice Avenue Creamery would do the trick. But even on this colder night, several smiling families enjoyed the treats indoors. Ciao Gelato saw steady business, too.

The doors were wide open at Dick’s Shoes to greet evening shoppers. The staff at Fifi’s Fine Resale adjusted a window display as several shoppers looked through the racks.

Sometimes, when couples are shopping before or after having dinner on the avenues, husbands will sit outside while wives shop. Typically, those wives come back another day alone and spend more time at the stores.

But at stores like The Tabletop, the guys enjoy coming in just as much as the women, said owner Manfred Kersten. Specialty glassware, kitchen gadgets and gourmet foods beckon everyone to shop and stay awhile.

And at Nana’s Children’s Shop, it isn’t only the children who come in, either on Thursday Stroll nights or any day of the week.

“Grandparents are some of our best customers,” said sales associate Sharon Kramer. “They buy for their grandkids before Christmas, then go up north with the gifts and come back to us in January.” Kramer sees steady business at Nana’s during the Thursday Stroll, especially in season. The store is also open Sundays.

Across the street, the sign at the new Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar glowed in the night as cars pulled up to drop passengers off at the door.

Strolling down the sidewalk, after enjoying dinner and a sampling of desserts along the way, one couldn’t help but smile at the painted dolphins and turtles that line the way. A band entertained diners at T. J. Carney’s Pub and Grille—with the music increasing in volume as diners opened and closed the doors.

“The Thursday Stroll is a nice way to introduce people to Venice MainStreet, and show everyone our hospitality,” said Kathy Crisman. “When we didn’t have it, the customers asked about it. They missed it.”

They can be happy now—it looks like the Thursday Stroll on Venice MainStreet is here to stay.

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