by Sheila G. Miller
A Twist on a Family Favorite Event in the Old Mill District
COVID-19 ruined plenty of plans in 2020. The Old Mill District knew it couldn’t let the public down on Halloween, too.
For years, the Old Mill District has been a centerpiece of Bend’s Halloween scene — thousands of children flock to the area to show off their costumes, trick-or-treat at the local shops, and have a family-friendly, safe place to celebrate.
But inviting hordes of people to the shopping district was off the table in the midst of a global pandemic. So what to do to replace the trademark event?
After kicking around other ideas, marketing director Carrie Ramoz and digital content manager Beau Eastes, the Old Mill District’s two-person marketing machine, came up with a plan that not only allowed families to celebrate in a responsible way, but actually increased foot traffic to stores that have struggled to stay afloat during COVID-19’s long reign of terror.
“People were really ready for something,” Eastes said. “Everything had been shut down for seven months.”
Using the popularity of Instagram and the rise of influencers as inspiration, the OMD marketing team set about creating six photo stations where families and kids could strike a pose.
Using scavenged bits and pieces (REI’s castoff SmartWool mannequins for Star Wars stormtrooper body armor, for example, pool noodles fashioned into lollipops, fake Aspen trees from a Christmas display), ingenuity and a few specially purchased items, Ramoz and Eastes got to work.
The photo stations, spread throughout the Old Mill District to encourage foot traffic, included Star Wars stormtroopers, Harry Potter’s carriage at Platform 9 ¾, a 3D Frozen scene complete with Olaf the snowman, a lollipop forest, a classic pumpkin-and-hay bale scene, and a pets station (water dishes in tiny pumpkins included).
“It was all DIY, and it took us more hours than we expected,” Eastes said. “The conference room was covered in glue and duct tape, but it was so cool. It gave families something to do for Halloween, and it gave them something they could do on their own time. It was up for a week.” That was a big consideration for Jessica Zupan and her family.
“The fact that it was an ongoing thing made it easy for us to work around our schedule and to go when it was convenient to us,” she said. “With the pandemic and the relatively mild weather, we were happy to be able to get outside and enjoy something different with friends. And with young kids, they always enjoy a good reason to get to wear their Halloween costume more than once, so this was a good excuse.”
Zupan was impressed with the creativity of the Harry Potter station, and her kids were excited about it too, even though they hadn’t seen the movies. The lollipops and the Frozen scenes were the universal winners, though.
“It was kind of like a fun treasure hunt for them,” she said.
Kendra McCamey took her three children to the Old Mill District for Halloween for the first time in 2020. They were drawn there by the lollipop forest in front of Sweet Tooth Candy Shoppe. Once McCamey’s daughter heard there was a gift card involved, she knew she had to be there. “My kids ran to each one and were disappointed when they stopped,” she said. “For the age children I have, they truly enjoyed this and we hope it continues next year. … Pandemic or not we would have participated!”
For the Old Mill District, there was an added bonus: the change to photo stations benefited retailers. In the past, Halloween is a bit of a lost day for shops and restaurants, as they surrender to being overrun by thousands of kids, handing out $10,000 in candy purchased by the district.
“This had the exact opposite effect on retailers,” Eastes said. “It was a week of increased traffic.”
The project also provided a huge boost in social media engagement — Eastes said the district received more than 500 photo submissions, which he estimates is about 10 percent of participants. The Old Mill District invited the public to share photos and gave out prizes to top costumes and kids who were just too adorable to ignore.
The success of the project means that even after masks and social distancing go by the wayside, the Old Mill District plans to continue the photo stations at Halloween each year.
“There was a want and a hunger for something like this,” Eastes said. “People wanted to have some holiday traditions with their kids, even in a pandemic. We needed to come up with something, and this worked.”