Beloved Santa Bear returns to Dayton’s amid hopes of permanent holiday pop-up downtown

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Black Friday in downtown Minneapolis: a perfect opportunity for in-person holiday shopping.

At many shops on Friday, the afternoon crowds ebbed and flowed. But early in the morning at Dayton’s Project, the site of the iconic department store, shoppers lined up for the chance to buy… Santa Bears.

“When I came in, security said we needed somebody at six o’clock this morning,” recalled Mich Berthiaume, the grand curator at Dayton’s. “I looked, and there was a line of people waiting to buy the Santa Bear. This is the first time we’ve brought it back in many years.”

One store owner said there was a 45-50-minute wait for the Santa Bear’s return, with people nearly standing outside.

Dayton’s is rolling out the Santa Bear for the first time since 2007, with the store selling 500 of them Friday.

“It’s very emotional and nostalgic for shoppers who remember from 1985,” Berthiaume explained. “Standing in line with their family to buy that Santa Bear every year.”

Those cuddly toys appear to be a magnet for shoppers, and maybe a bit of marketing genius. Call it the power of nostalgia.

“I just think it was something that people got crazy about for a while,” Roach said. “The one that I have is from when I used to work in a shelter for adolescents. I think that year they may have had a surplus of bears they gave to charities and organizations that work with kids.”

Berthiaume said they are almost sold out of Santa Bears, but more are on order.

For the second year in a row, Dayton’s is operating a holiday pop-up marketplace. Located on three floors, it’s a way for shoppers to experience downtown while looking for that perfect gift.

“We have 68 total vendors right now, and if we can keep growing this annually and incorporating more engaging experiences for the customers, that’s what we’re hoping to do,” Berthiaume says.

“I think it’s great,” said Polly Roach of Minneapolis. “I used to work downtown. We’d always be on this side of the mall during lunch hour getting food or shopping. I miss being able to do that.”

Dayton’s will keep its marketplace open through January 13th, and they’ll be open every day until Christmas.

The Minneapolis Downtown Council doesn’t have exact numbers but estimates hundreds of thousands of shoppers are visiting during the holiday season.

“They’re able to see different local makers, crafters, retailers, altogether in one spot,” explained Leah Wong, a council spokesperson. “And it’s really an opportunity for a lot of the buildings downtown to just kind of showcase different talents, different retailers.”

One shop owner said in-person shopping is more than just a business opportunity: it’s a community-building exercise.

“You get more genuine conversations with people in person,” said Tom Dokman, the founder of Here’s the Deal Spice Company. “They come downtown to see the skyline, get back down here to see the fun stuff.”

The council said at least two other holiday pop-up stores have been set up downtown. Meanwhile, Dayton’s managers are hoping the pop-up concept could become something more permanent.

“Pre-COVID, I believe we had 58,000 people walking through the skyway every day,” Berthiaume said. “It sure would be fun to see similar numbers and keep those growing – more restaurants, more shopping, more people, more experiences downtown.”