Christmas Capital: What the Holidays Mean to Grapevine Merchants
15 Jan 2024
If you attended any one of 1,400+ events here in the Christmas Capital of Texas, you likely walked away awestruck by both the quality and the crowds. That’s by design: vendors in Grapevine’s largest retail hubs will tell you that the holiday season is their bread and butter, even with the robust trade that takes place here every day. To help explain the importance and impact of the seasonal surge, we’ve broken down a few key trends that put the final stretch of the calendar year in perspective. A few takeaways:
- As a whole, the City is recovering to pre-pandemic norms, especially during the holidays
- Power centers such as Main Street and Grapevine Mills have recovered even faster
- No one is immune to nationwide trends... or weather
From our busiest days of the year to the importance of activations and events, this report will unpack the unique strengths and challenges of a visitor-driven economy like Grapevine’s. Let’s unpack the observations listed above, starting with broad trends and narrowing the focus as we go.
Macrotrends: 7 Years of Destination Dining and Attractions
A high-level analysis of visitation trends in Grapevine shows that City-wide foot traffic hasn’t yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Estimates from Placer.ai peg 2018 as the highwater mark within the available panel (Jan 1, 2017-Dec 31, 2023). That year, the portion of Grapevine not reserved for DFW International Airport logged 53 Million visits: around 19% more visits than we recorded in 2023. In fact, the busiest year since the pandemic was 2021, when “revenge spending” and pent-up demand created the ideal conditions for a bounce back.
With inflation lingering and household budgets tight, it makes sense that travelers would have been in shorter supply last year. One shouldn’t be surprised to see lower numbers within the City following the COVID shutdown, given that business travel and conference schedules – important drivers here in Grapevine – haven’t yet returned to full tilt. Still, Placer estimates an average of 43 million visits to the area of study during each of the last three years. That’s a powerful draw for a community with just over 50,000 residents.
In fact, that local market seems to be picking up the slack left behind by broader travel. Because of the City’s strategic location in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, “staycations” and day trips have been a staple for years. Intra-area visitors became the strategic focus for Grapevine’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau while air travel was on the mend, and the shopping centers that play host to local attractions fared far better than the broader market in terms of overall recovery.
As shown in the chart above, destinations like Grapevine Mills and the Historic District have seen deeper valleys and higher peaks compared to the baseline visitation trend over the last seven years. In the midst of the pandemic, trips to the City cratered; dropping 70% below baseline across the market, 85% shy of the standard on Main Street, and 94% underwater at Grapevine Mills. But as the trendline reversed, those smaller centers recovered faster.
The most recent holiday season saw a 24% jump against the baseline for the City as a whole; well short of the 40% record set in the winter of 2017. Grapevine Mills, on the other hand, fell only 50,000 visits shy of their best-ever December within the dataset. The Historic District performed even better, gaining visitors every year with the exception of 2020 on pace to an all-time high of 869,581 estimated visits in December of 2023. If you think that’s impressive, wait until you see the numbers up close.
42 Days of Wonder: November 20 – Dec 31, 2023
Local businesses of every shape and size put together special events for the Holiday season, but few areas of the City can match the raw drawing power of the Historic District once the Parks Department decks the halls up and down Main Street. A sizeable number of holiday happenings in Grapevine take place within that special event district during the 40-plus day period between the week of Thanksgiving and the New Year. That’s probably why almost all of Grapevine’s busiest days fall in the month of December, with particular overlaps between Citywide traffic and crowds on Main Street.
A side-by-side comparison of the ten dates with the highest estimated visitor counts for those two areas shows near total domination for the holiday season. 9 out of the 10 busiest dates in Grapevine Proper fall within the event window, with the sole outlier being July 22; the date Solo Stove set a new world record for simultaneous s’mores toasting at Chicken N Pickle. But for that event and a particularly large Saturday crowd at the start of Spring Break, all 10 of Grapevine’s heaviest traffic days would have fallen within the Christmas Capital of Texas event window.
That pattern doesn’t change much when the area in question shrinks to Main Street. While seasonal festivals draw their share of traffic to the Historic District – the Saturday of GrapeFest ranked third in 2023, while the Saturday of Main Street Fest placed eighth on the list of largest estimated crowds – Christmas dominates downtown, too. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday play an important role in that trend, but smaller events had a remarkable impact in 2023. For example, the biggest crowds in Grapevine and on Main Street last year coincided with the second and third editions of the Merry and Bright Drone Show.
Which begs the question... what makes Main Street so special?
The Importance of Placemaking and Event Design
In terms of baseline performance, Main Street benefits from the holiday season more than any other retail hub in Grapevine. Larger shopping centers like Grapevine Mills may accrue more total visits during the 40-day Christmas Capital event window, but none record the exponential boost in visitation driven by holiday decorations, events, and accessibility. Across the City, foot traffic ebbs and flows with travel patterns – surging during Spring Break, the summer vacation season, and the final weeks of every year –but along Main Street, crowds tend to hold relatively steady throughout the year.
Until the Carol of Lights.
As seen in the chart above, visitors flood onto Main Street after the ceremonial lighting of Christmas decorations on the Monday before Thanksgiving and stick around until New Year’s Eve every year. The Historic District set a new record in 2023, logging over a million visits during that stretch. Weekend travelers account for a large share of that traffic, boosted by holiday events and major shopping days. But the entire season performs well: of the 20 busiest days on Main Street last year, 17 fell within the holiday period. Only Grapefest (#3 and #14) and the Saturday of Main Street Fest (#8) interrupt a run of 25 straight December and late November days at the top of the charts.
A number of factors feed those trends, of course. One needs to look no further than the four slowest days of the year to understand the importance of good weather for outdoor attractions like those of the Historic District. Jan 30-Feb 2, dates corresponding to an ice storm, sit at the bottom of the list for traffic on Main Street and City-wide. In contrast, December 2023 supplied relatively mild conditions that encouraged large gatherings, and most major events aligned with favorable temperatures.
The Park’s Department’s Merry and Bright Drone Show proved to be the standout in that regard, with the area’s two busiest dates matching the final editions of that event and the first edition drawing the fourth-largest crowd of the year. The Carol of Lights, a post-Thanksgiving retail blitz, and the last weekend before Christmas round out the list of Main Street’s ten busiest days, with crowds averaging roughly 1.5 hours per visit from Nov 20 until Dec 31.
We would be remiss if we didn’t also point out the steady build of traffic along Main Street since 2017, coinciding with the completion of Grapevine Main Street Station and the launch of a public-private development that includes Hotel Vin and Harvest Hall. Even a cursory glance at the most recent ridership trends reveals a powerful correlation between that project and foot traffic on Main Street. It’s fair to say that the Historic District has always been the heart and soul of Grapevine, but strategic development and visionary activations have turned it into a true center of gravity in recent years; a testament to the value of placemaking and innovative leadership.
If you’d like to be part of the incredible growth that’s going on in Grapevine, we’d love to introduce you to the market. Developers can reach out to the City’s Economic Development Department for more information, and everyone is invited to follow along with major announcements. Simply subscribe to our monthly eNewsletter or follow the ‘Growing Grapevine’ podcast for more insights.